“It isn’t just about honoring the past. It’s about protecting our future,” Texas Representative Chet Edwards said at a Center for American Progress Action Fund event on Thursday. Edwards, the chairman of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, spoke about the historic provisions the 110th Congress has made toward veterans benefits. He was introduced by CAPAF Senior Vice President of National Security and International Policy Rudy deLeon.
Edwards led the campaign to pass the largest increases in veterans health care funding and benefits in the history of the United States. Edwards explained that America has a moral obligation to ensure that the needs of veterans are a top priority, saying that veterans earned their benefits “when they put on our nation’s uniform.”
According to Edwards, health care and education assistance for veterans is not only about honoring the past, “it’s about protecting our future.” Edwards said that it will be difficult for America to maintain a volunteer army of the best and brightest soldiers if the nation doesn’t demonstrate its appreciation for the service of veterans. “It’s a disgrace in our nation,” he added, “that over 100,000 veterans will go to sleep homeless tonight.”
“This may come as a surprise to some of you who may assume that Republicans make veterans a higher priority than Democrats,” Edwards said as he compared the actions of the previous Congress to the 110th Congress. He described how former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert fired the Republican chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Chris Smith, because he decided to “stand up and put loyalty to veterans above his loyalty to partisanship.”
The Texas representative credits much of the progress that Congress has made on veterans affairs issues to the leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying that she, “has kept her commitments to veterans.”
Edwards discussed specific provisions that the 110th Congress has passed to benefit veterans, including increased veterans health care research, the introduction of a new GI bill of rights, and doubled funding for mental health services. In regard to mental health care, he said that American culture deems mental health needs as a sign of weakness, but “we have to keep doing everything we can do to change the culture.”
In a heartrending story about an injured soldier who fought for his life in order to fulfill a promise he made to his daughter, Edwards emphasized that veterans make tremendous sacrifices and thus deserve the best care that the nation can give because, “it is right, and it is the smart thing to do.”