Editorial: Memorial Day and a renewed commitment to American ideals

As Americans, we stand on the shoulders of the men and women who serve in uniform. This Memorial Day, as I do every day, I will pause to remember those service members who have paid the ultimate sacrifice so that you and I could live in the greatest country on the face of this Earth and enjoy the freedoms that make it so.

We would not be the nation we are today without the men and women who died on the battlefield protecting our country and the Constitution.

Over the years, I have carried in my heart several very special service members who were killed in action. I see their faces every day, and they’re the people for whom I work as chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. I’ve spoken often about Roy C. Irwin, who died in 1944 during World War II on the same day I was born, and whose grave I discovered during a visit to the American Cemetery in Margraten, Netherlands. I’ve shared stories of my college buddy, Jackson Elliott Cox III of Waynesboro, who died a proud Marine in Vietnam. And I’ve talked about Noah Harris of Ellijay, a student at the University of Georgia who joined the U.S. Army after the harrowing attacks on September 11, 2001, who made a difference in my life and in the lives of many others in Georgia and Iraq before he was killed in an IED attack.

These heroes protected the First Amendment so we can write and speak our minds, so we can assemble, so we can defend ourselves, so we can exercise all of those God-given rights that were written on paper at the beginning of this republic. That Constitution is given life by the service members who defend it every day.

For them, and for countless others, we not only pause to reflect on their lives, we also renew our commitment to keeping America a beacon of freedom for the world.

As part of that commitment, we must continue our work for service members who return home, as we honor those who did not.

Memorial Day is an important reminder that there is still much work to be done for our nation’s veterans – that their survival is not assured, and their toughest days often lie ahead in the form of rehabilitation and reintegration.

To ensure our veterans have access to the best possible care, support and benefits that they have earned, last week, we passed landmark legislation to dramatically improve the way the VA delivers health care. I’ve worked for more than 18 months on this legislation to help reform the Veterans Choice Program so that veterans can receive care in the community when and where it makes sense for them.

The John S. McCain III, Daniel K. Akaka and Samuel R. Johnson VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act, or VA MISSION Act for short, builds on legislation I introduced with Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., to improve health care for those who have sacrificed for all of us.

Before its passage by Congress, the VA MISSION Act earned support from Georgia’s former U.S. Senator Max Cleland, a Purple Heart recipient and former head of the Veterans Administration, as well as from President Donald Trump, Acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie and more than three dozen respected veterans’ service organizations and advocacy groups.

The legislation streamlines and improves seven VA community healthcare programs. It also includes provisions to improve VA’s ability to hire high-quality healthcare professionals and establish a process to evaluate the usage of VA’s existing facilities.

As a Vietnam-era veteran myself, this bill also includes a provision that is especially important to my generation of veterans. It expands the VA’s caregiver program to veterans of all eras, including to this aging population of veterans who need it most.

These reforms are some of the most significant changes in years to provide more choice and fewer barriers for veterans who need medical care. It is the final piece in a mosaic of reforms that we have championed and seen completed to make the VA more responsive and accountable to the veterans it serves.

This Memorial Day, Congress renewed our commitment to providing the best care to our nation’s heroes with the passage of the VA MISSION Act.

###

The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is chaired by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in the 115th Congress. Isakson is a veteran himself – having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972 – and has been a member of the Senate VA Committee since he joined the Senate in 2005. Isakson’s home state of Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the military as well as more than 750,000 veterans.