Rebuilding our military and improving care and benefits for veterans

Published 9:02 am Monday, August 13, 2018

Since serving in Congress, I’ve repeatedly said there are three groups I’ll never apologize for supporting: the men and women of our Armed Forces who put themselves in harm’s way to keep us free; veterans who have honorably served our country; and farmers because of the work they do day in and day out to keep our food supply strong. On Thursday, July 26, I cast one of the most important votes I take each year — a vote to send a bill to the president’s desk to provide funding for our military.
This year’s legislation, the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019, provides $717 billion to continue our work to rebuild our military, and I was proud to support it. The men and women who serve this country deserve to have the best equipment and training in the world, but the previous administration’s cuts to military spending put our servicemembers and national security at risk. When you have more members of the military killed in training exercises than combat, you’re doing something wrong.
This self-induced crisis must end, and the FY19 NDAA will help restore the power and capability of the best military in the world. I’m also extremely proud this legislation includes a 2.6 percent pay raise for our troops — the largest in nearly a decade. This is on top of last year’s 2.4 percent pay raise, so we are keeping our commitment to take care of those who keep us safe and free. In addition, the NDAA provides critical funding to improve missile capabilities and upgrade combat equipment. As the world becomes more and more dangerous, it’s more important than ever we invest in a strong national defense.
Last year’s NDAA paved the way for an increase of more than 20,000 active-duty and reserve troops. In addition to supporting strong investment in our military, I’m also working to improve benefits for veterans so if a servicemember chooses to return to civilian life after their service, they have access to education benefits that will help them find good-paying jobs. One of the best examples of this is the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, or Forever GI Bill. This bill was signed into law by President Trump last August.
The Forever GI Bill removes time restrictions to use the GI Bill, enabling future eligible recipients to use their GI Bill benefits for their entire lives as opposed to the previous 15-year timeline. It also simplifies the benefit for future servicemembers by consolidating the GI Bill into a single program over time, which will reduce Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) administrative costs. The law also provides significant increases in GI Bill funding for Reservists and Guardsmen, dependents, surviving spouses and surviving dependents. It provides 100 percent GI Bill eligibility to Post 9/11 Purple Heart recipients. In addition, the Forever GI Bill restores eligibility for servicemembers whose school closes in the middle of a semester and creates a pilot program that would pay for veterans to take accelerated learning programs in technology courses. The GI Bill has been an invaluable recruitment tool, and I was proud to be the lead sponsor and author of this important update to education benefits for veterans.
We’re also working to improve health care for veterans. Another piece of legislation I authored, the VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks (MISSION) Act, will allow veterans greater flexibility when choosing where to get their health care. The VA MISSION Act was signed into law in June, and will ensure veterans have access to the timely and quality health care they earned. This law puts VA back on track to fulfilling its main mission: to care for the men and women who have borne the battle. The VA MISSION Act streamlines the department’s duplicative community care programs into one cohesive program, creates a non-partisan process for reviewing VA’s assets to ensure veterans can access the care they deserve and expands VA’s Post-9/11 Caregiver Program to all eras. These reforms are supported by many Veterans Service Organizations.
While we’ve made a great deal of progress to rebuild our military and improve care and benefits for veterans, there is much left to do. You can rest assured I will continue fighting until the men and women who serve have access to the resources they need and the benefits they have earned.
My door is always open to East Tennesseans. Feel free to contact my office if I can be of assistance to you or your family.

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