A story worth preserving

Published 8:06 am Monday, October 14, 2019

I was just a young man in the summer of 1973, but I still remember that summer like it was yesterday. It was the summer when I was called to serve our nation during the Vietnam War. Many of those with whom I served and who returned came back to protests and opposition. Their sacrifices had seemingly gone unnoticed and underappreciated. Fortunately, Americans’ attitudes toward servicemembers has changed since the Vietnam War. Today, our servicemembers and veterans are applauded and treated with the utmost respect when they return home from the battlefield, which is exactly as it should be. From airports to baseball games, our country rightfully recognizes the sacrifices our men and women in uniform make every day in defense of our most precious freedoms.
With Committees in both the House and the Senate, and a cabinet level agency, solely focused on taking care of veterans, our nation is committed to serving the men and women who so selflessly served our country. The opportunity to serve on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs was something for which I hoped from the moment I was first elected to Congress. Having grown up in a small military town, practicing medicine for over 31 years, and being an Army veteran myself, the Veterans Affairs’ Committee seemed like the perfect assignment for me. It has been the honor of my life to serve our nation’s heroes in this capacity, as committee member, then Chairman and now Ranking Member. I cannot imagine a more meaningful mission. The Committee has spent the last few years working hard, in a bipartisan, bicameral way with President Trump and his administration to implement meaningful reforms to better the lives of our veterans. Last Congress alone, the House passed over 80 veterans bills and President Trump signed over two dozen of them into law. I am hopeful our Committee will continue that momentum this Congress.
One thing I’ve learned from my time on the committee is that every veteran has a story to tell. Some stories are painful, some are humorous, some are mesmerizing — but they are all personal. To ensure these stories are preserved for future generations, in 2000 Congress created the Veterans History Project through the Library of Congress to give veterans a platform to share and preserve their personal narratives about their time in uniform, and help Americans understand military service and its importance to our country’s history. The project is open to all veterans who served in the U.S. military in any capacity, from WWI to the present, who are no longer serving and who were discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable. Though there are approximately 20 million veterans in the United States, the Veterans History Project has only collected approximately 110,000 of their stories to date. That’s why Chairman Takano and I teamed up to grow the Veterans History Project’s story bank and give every veteran an opportunity to be heard by challenging every member of Congress to interview and submit at least one constituent veteran story to VHP prior to November 11, Veterans Day.
A member of my staff, Terry Harris, works every day to help me collect the stories of our region’s great veterans for this project. If you, or anyone you know, is interested in telling their story for the Veterans History Project, I encourage you to sign up to be interviewed. You can learn more about the VHP at the Library of Congress’ website.
One person I wish we could have interviewed for the Veterans History Project is my scoutmaster, First Sergeant Thomas E. Thayer, who died while serving in Vietnam in 1965. The leadership and responsibility I learned from him stuck with me in every phase of my life. I know he would be so proud of this initiative and how our troops are treated today. Honoring the stories of our nation’s heroes is an undertaking well worth the effort. Every veteran has a story that needs to be told and we are here ready to listen.

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