Etheridge: Another vote for the New GI Bill

The following column was submitted to media outlets for Memorial Day by Rep. Bob Etheridge, D-Lillington.

This Memorial Day, the thoughts and prayers of North Carolinians turn to the men and women who have served in uniform throughout the history of our nation. They have served with honor and bravery to secure the blessings of liberty for us all, and many have given their lives for the cause of freedom. They are our grandfathers, our neighbors, our friends, our mothers and fathers, our sons and daughters.

Today they are engaged in battles across the globe, including in Afghanistan and Iraq. More than 1,600 brave men and women have died, and 12,000 more have been wounded during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. We mourn and honor our heroes who have fallen. And we vow that when our servicemen and servicewomen return home, they should know that the country that they served will not turn its back on them.

That is why I have helped introduce the New GI Bill of Right for the 21st Century. This comprehensive legislation follows in the great tradition of the original GI Bill of Rights, which was enacted in 1944 to honor the Greatest Generation and to support troops returning home from World War II.

The New GI Bill of Rights would improve benefits for our men in women in uniform today and provide long-overdue benefits for the veterans and military retirees who have already served. For military retirees, it would fully repeal the “disabled veterans tax,” which taxes disabled military retirees dollar for dollar for the disability pay they receive. It would also cut through red tape to ensure that disabled veterans receive the benefits they are due as soon as possible.

This legislation would ensure that health care is accessible and affordable for all our veterans. It is absolutely unacceptable that more than 50,000 veterans are waiting more than six months for health care. The New GI Bill of Rights would increase funding for Department of Veterans Affairs health care, including $3.2 billion more than President Bush’s fiscal 2006 budget request.

For today’s troops, the New GI Bill of Rights would modernize and enhance the GI Bill by providing the full cost for college or job training for those serving four years of active duty. It includes provisions to make sure that we have enough troops to meet obligations and to make sure they have adequate equipment, so that our troops are well protected and not stretched too thin. Finally, this legislation recognizes the great sacrifice of our National Guard and Reserve by expanding military health care to cover all reservists and making sure they don’t suffer a pay cut while deployed.

Veterans represent the very best of our nation. As a veteran myself, it is my honor and privilege to represent the veterans of yesterday, today and tomorrow. We all share in the blessings of a free nation, bestowed by the fallen as a gift ever new to our children, their children and beyond. On this Memorial Day, I salute all of our service members, our veterans and our military families.

Congressman Bob Etheridge represents the 2nd District of North Carolina, which includes southern Vance County.