Editorial Column: Supporting Our Troops – Swift Passage a Must for Veterans’ Bill

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

August 5, 2008 – They put their lives on the line to protect us — our country, our freedoms, our way of life. The least we can do is make sure they receive the appropriate and necessary care they — and their families — need and deserve.

Last Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2009. Support for the bill was overwhelming, with 408 lawmakers voting in favor of it, four against and 21 abstaining.

At the heart of the bill is a substantial increase in funding for veterans programs and military construction.

“Our nation’s military, past and present, has served our country bravely and we owe them a debt of gratitude,” U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said in a statement following the passage of the bill in the House. “The legislation we passed today boosts funding for programs, equipment and facilities needed by our service members for their readiness and their safety and well-being; it also provides veterans with greater access to higher quality care, honoring those who have stood in harm’s way.”

According to Rahall, the bill provides $72.7 billion in discretionary spending, which includes $47.7 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The legislation exceeds the president’s funding request by $3.4 billion.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with America’s military action in the Middle East, few would argue that the brave men and women who choose to serve our country deserve high-quality health care and other benefits.

This legislation includes billions of dollars specifically geared to address “the challenges confronting veterans who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, such as the need for advanced prosthetics, mental health care and substance abuse treatment,” according to information provided by Rahall.

Additionally, the bill will also increase gas mileage reimbursement from 28.5 cents per mile to 41.5 cents per mile for veterans traveling long distances to access health care. This extra funding is vital to veterans across southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia who must travel long distances to receive health care at a VA hospital.

It’s bad enough our local vets have no VA facility close to home. Now, with the high cost of gasoline, they face additional financial impediments simply because there is no VA hospital in the Bluefield, Princeton, Welch or Tazewell, Va., area.

Rahall described the bill as a funding boost “to help increase West Virginia veterans’ access to quality health care and to help reduce the backlog of benefits claims.”

Another key component of the legislation is $24.8 billion for military construction, family housing and base realignment and closure, in an effort to maintain and safeguard the welfare of military families.

“The husbands, wives and children of our servicemen and women often suffer many hardships when stationed away from home,” Rahall explained. “This bill pays special attention to our military families by including programs to provide the housing and military community infrastructure that sustains a quality of life for our troops and their families stationed around the globe.”

We, like so many Americans, stand strongly behind any and all legislation that will benefit our veterans and troops, and their families.

We expect the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill to sail through Congress and receive a swift signature of approval from President Bush. Delayed action or failure is not an option. Our troops need our support — and this legislation is one way to show them we have their backs covered here at home.

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