The men and women who serve the United States agree to protect it both in times of peace and in times of war. They take great risks. They are often sent overseas and spend many months away from their family and loved ones. U.S. service members have answered this country's call, and they have done so willingly. In return, the U.S. promised that it would look after them once they put away their uniforms.
This country pledged to provide them with retirement pay, educational assistance, and secure, comprehensive medical coverage. The Congress has worked very hard to fulfill this promise. For instance, in 2001 the Senate passed legislation that will provide nearly $51 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is an increase of $1.1 billion over last year's budget. Much of this increase will be spent on improving medical care, expanding prescription drug coverage, providing better education benefits, and helping homeless veterans.
In a separate effort, the Congress passed a plan that would give military retirees who are 65 or older the option to remain in the Department of Defense's health programs. Medicare-eligible retirees are currently forced to leave the Defense Department's health program and either enroll in expensive private health care plans or rely solely upon Medicare. This policy change will allow them to use the Department of Defense's health care program as a "second-payer" to Medicare, potentially saving military retirees thousands of dollars a year. It will also make available to retirees additional prescription drug coverage.
Senator Thompson also introduced and passed legislation to restore GI Bill education benefits to those Vietnam War veterans who served our country faithfully but have been unfairly denied their much-deserved benefits. These veterans separated from the military for a short time and then later rejoined. Unfortunately, because of provisions in the 1984 Montgomery GI Bill, they were unable to qualify for education benefits. These provisions were unfair and denied benefits to thousands of veterans. Senator Thompson's legislation, which was signed into law by the President in January of 2002, corrects this injustice and honors America's pledge to its veterans.
Senator Thompson firmly believes the U.S. must keep its promises to veterans. Our men and women in uniform put their lives on the line for this country. Some suffered debilitating injuries as a result of their service. Some gave their lives. They sacrificed so that the American people would not have to. This country owes them its gratitude.
In addition, keeping this commitment to our veterans will help keep the military strong. The U.S. must make an extra effort to ensure that the needs of this country's military personnel are being met. If these needs are met, Senator Thompson believes that the military's morale and readiness will rise, and U.S. service members will be more likely to re-enlist, and encourage their friends and family to serve.
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