Dear North Carolina Veterans:
Before I left Washington earlier this month to spend time traveling through the state, the Senate took action on several noteworthy items that affect you and your fellow veterans.
Ø In order to ensure that veterans get the best service possible when they deal with the VA, I offered an amendment that would commission an action plan within theDepartment of Veterans’ Affairs to improve the correlation between employee pay and employee performance.
Ø To ensure veterans do not need to wait for an act of Congress every year to get their annual cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) for their veterans’ disability compensation, I offered an amendment to make COLAs automatic.
Ø To address the massive backlog of veterans’ benefits claims, I offered an amendment that would allow VA to make awards of disability compensation retroactive for claims applications that are fully-developed at submittal.
Ø To help get more VA medical facilities constructed, I offered an amendment that would require the VA to use any bid savings they receive to go towards the construction of other major medical facility projects of the Department.
Ø As defenders of our country, veterans deserve the protection of their constitutional rights. I offered an amendment that would help ensure veterans’ Second Amendment due process rights are respected.
Ø To help ensure that our borders are secure and stop illegal immigration, I offered an amendment that would allow America’s service members to transfer their military skills into Border Patrol and other law enforcement positions.
Ø In addition to these amendments, I offered a bill that the Committee approved that would help provide additional transitional housing units for our homeless veterans. Helping ensure that our veterans do not go to bed without a roof over their head at night has long been one of my priorities as a member of the Committee, and with the right support, we can help prevent a veteran from becoming homeless.
I am also very pleased to report that the Committee approved a bill to make some much needed improvements to the new Post-9/11 GI Bill (S. 3447, Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010). I’ve heard from a number of veterans in North Carolina who expressed some frustrations with the new program, so I look forward to swift passage of this important legislation by Congress. Specifically, this bill would make the Post 9-11 GI Bill program fair and generous, no matter where a veteran lives or chooses to go to school. By taking steps such as covering vocational training, the bill would allow more veterans and their families to pursue the educational programs that best meet their needs and it will help put veterans in a better position to compete for jobs requiring special skills.
While I am very pleased with the passage of this legislation by the Committee, I remain deeply disappointed that the Committee and this Congress have failed to act on legislation to help our Camp Lejeune veterans and their families who were exposed to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune. During this last meeting of the Committee, I offered my Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act, which would provide health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs to veterans and their family members who were exposed to the contaminated drinking water during their time at Camp Lejeune and who now suffer from cancers and other debilitating illnesses associated with the carcinogens and toxins found in the water. Unfortunately, my legislation was again defeated by the Committee. It is my hope that additional information from ongoing scientific studies will increase awareness in Congress and among the general public about the severity of this problem and the large numbers of people who have been severely harmed. To view and listen to my statement before the committee, click here.
On another note, those of you who are former Marines and Sailors and especially those who served at Camp Lejeune during the 1940’s and early 1950’s may remember the first African-Americans to be trained at Montford Marine Camp, the current site of Camp Johnson. The camp is named after Sergeant Major Gilbert “Hashmark” Johnson, one of the Montford Point trainees, a drill instructor, combat veteran of the Pacific Theatre, and one of the first African-American Marines to reach the rank of Sergeant Major.
In 1942, African-Americans were first recruited into the Marine Corps, but were trained and deployed in segregated units. In July 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981 declaring an end to segregation in the military and in September 1949 the Montford Point Camp was deactivated. Approximately 20,000 African-American Marines were trained at Montford Point Camp between 1942 and 1949, serving their country during the period of military segregation and beyond. Camp Johnson is now home to the Montford Point Marine Museum and Marine Corps Combat Support Schools.
I recently introduced legislation to recognize the honorable service of African-American Marines trained at Montford Point Camp, North Carolina, by marking August 26, 2010 as “Montford Point Marines Day.” The Commandant of the Marine Corps was the keynote speaker at the recent commemoration of this special day at Camp Johnson where many Montford Point Marines and their families congregated for a unique honor. The Montford Point Marines’ bravery and commitment to their country exemplifies true patriotism. Their service spearheaded the untiring service of future generations of African-Americans across the ranks and within military leadership, and has ultimately made our military a stronger, more effective force to protect and defend this nation and her ideals.
I am also pleased to report the creation of the Senate Military Family Caucus - a bipartisan group that will focus on issues facing the families of active and veteran service men and women. I am honored to serve as the caucus Co-Chairman. The families of America’s men and women in uniform are the backbone of our military. They often sacrifice to offer the support and motivation our service members need to accomplish their mission, all the while living with the reality that their loved one may be in harm’s way. There’s a lot we can do for these families to ease their burden. The Senate Military Family caucus signifies that we, as a group of Senators, recognize a need to support military families and provides an avenue to push for legislation that will benefit these families.
The Senate Military Family Caucus will work closely with the recently formed House Congressional Military Family Caucus to improve programs and services for military families, and to focus on the unique and growing challenges they face. The Caucus aims to substantively address issues including childcare, education, employment, health care and the effects of multiple deployments on the mental health and well-being of spouses, caregivers and children.
Finally, as I’m sure you are aware, August 31st marks the end of combat operations in Iraq. You’ve probably seen in the news that the last combat brigade is on its way home. The remaining 50,000 American troops will comprise Advise and Assist Brigades to continue the training and mentoring of Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and provide direct and indirect support for the ISF when requested, while a number of special operations troops will remain in the area to conduct targeted counterterrorism missions. Effective today, the Department of State will become the lead agency in Iraq with the Department of Defense in a supporting role. The United States’ mission in Iraq has been the subject of considerable debate and controversy since it began, but despite the differences some may have about the reasons for our involvement, it’s clear the counterinsurgency and counterterrorism strategies initiated in 2006 and sustained from 2007 until the present day have successfully enabled the Government of Iraq to reach major milestones in critical areas of security, governance, and rule of law. The Iraqis now have an increasingly competent and responsive military and police and have elected a representative government and approved a constitution. These major accomplishments have laid the foundation for future economic and political reforms that will support our interests in the region. The road ahead for the Iraqis will not be easy or smooth, but their future can be promising, provided they find enough common political ground and effectively manage the abundance of natural resources within their borders. While much more work remains in the months ahead, the United States commanders and troops, with their civilian partners in the Department of State, United States Agency for International Development, Department of Treasury, Department of Commerce, Department of Justice, and the Federal contractors who ably supported the effort in Iraq should be commended for their ingenuity, resourcefulness, courage, and sacrifice over the past seven years.
In closing, I want to take a moment to recognize the steadfast commitment of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, their loyal families, and the thousands of veterans across North Carolina who continue to serve and support our communities and this nation. Your service is a humbling reminder that the freedoms we enjoy are precious and should never be taken for granted.
I look forward to meeting and speaking with some of you as I criss-cross the state in the coming days. I encourage you to visit http://burr.senate.gov to see my weekly schedule. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the staff in one of my state offices or in my office in Washington DC.
U.S. Senator Richard Burr