Taking Care of our Vets
By Senator Mike Rounds
February 6, 2015
Providing adequate care and support for our military personnel – during and after their service – is a fundamental responsibility of the federal government. In fact, national defense is the primary purpose of the federal government. The brave men and women in uniform sacrifice everything to protect our freedoms here at home, and we owe it to them to make sure they have everything they need when they return from service. In the Senate, I have the unique privilege to serve on two committees that focus specifically on our military personnel: The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
I continue to be humbled by the stories of the brave men and women who fought and continue to fight for our country. I recently took part in a Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony in the United States Capitol. The ceremony honored World War II veterans who served in the First Special Service Force. In the year and-a-half these men fought in combat, they never once lost a mission. They specialized in rock climbing, skiing and amphibious stealth attacks in dangerous territory. A number of these heroes were present at the ceremony, and hearing their stories was inspirational. Though their bravery and sacrifices can never be fully repaid, we must make sure they and other veterans are properly compensated. We must never forget their sacrifice in service to our country.
A recent SASC hearing focused on a commission report that called for an overhaul of the compensation layout of our armed forces. The Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) recently completed their recommendation to overhaul how the military receives compensation and benefits, including regular and retirement payments. I thank the members of the commission who presented their findings to us. Right now, only about 17 percent of service members leave the military with any retirement benefits. The commission’s plan would bump that number up to 75 percent. From what I have read, there are some good ideas in the report. However, we have to honor the promises which we have made to those individuals currently in the retirement system. They honored their end, we must honor ours. We cannot balance our budget on the backs of service men and women or our veterans.
We wasted no time getting to work to help our heroes in the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. One of the very first pieces of legislation we took up this Congress was the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act. Tragically, too many returning veterans, still struggling with the invisible wounds of war, don’t seek the mental health care they need. By passing the Clay Hunt SAV Act, we hope to change that. I supported it out of committee and was happy it passed unanimously out of the Senate. The legislation takes important steps to supply returning veterans with the tools they need to safely acclimate to life back home. It would also streamline mental health resources to make them more effective and efficient.
We have a duty to care for our men and women in uniform and follow through on our promises to them, and it’s an honor to serve them in the Senate Armed Services and Veterans’ Affairs Committees. I will continue to find ways make sure these brave men and women have the support they deserve from the government of the country they fight so hard to defend.