Two hundred and thirty three years after the ratification of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, the principles outlined in this historic document remain our country's guiding light. It defines what we stand for and who we are as a nation and embodies the heart and spirit of the American people.Today, our men and women in uniform continue to exemplify Thomas Jefferson's glorious words stated eloquently in the Declaration of Independence "… with a firm reliance on the protection of Devine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred honor." As we observe our Independence Day, the month of July is also an opportunity for all of us to pay tribute to the nearly 2.3 million men and women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, both active and reserve, and their families. Just as our forefathers sacrificed on the battlefield, they too have answered our nation's call to duty. They are enduring harsh conditions and some will never return home. Since 2001, nearly 5,000 of them have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan and more than 33,000 have been wounded. To honor their contributions, I am proud that Congress under the leadership of our new President took significant steps in recent weeks to provide our service members and their families with additional services and benefits. The Fiscal Year Supplemental Appropriations measure signed into law on June 24 provides more than 185,000 service members who have had their enlistments involuntarily extended since September 11, 2001 with $500 for every month they were held over. The measure also includes more than $708 million for military family advocacy programs and $276 million for the construction of new child development centers, which will provide care for an additional 5,000 military children. In addition, the legislation builds on the new GI Bill signed into law last year by allowing for the extension of college education benefits to the children of members of the armed forces who die while on active duty. The new GI Bill covers the costs of a four-year education up to the level of the most expensive in-state public tuition for soldiers who served three years on active duty since September 11, 2001. More information about this comprehensive law is available at www.gibill.va.gov Congress also passed a budget resolution in April praised by major veterans' groups for its funding increase of 11.7 percent or $5.6 billion for veterans' health care and other important veteran-related services. This commitment to our veterans builds on other landmark federal spending measures over the last two years that included the largest funding increase for the Department of Veterans Affairs in its' 77-year history. These spending measures make critical investments in veterans' medical care, in hiring additional claims processors, and making badly needed improvements in VA medical facilities. Through the passage of long overdue legislation such as the new GI Bill and the Supplemental, this Congress and our President are demonstrating, with action and not just words, that we too share the honorable military code of conduct "to leave no soldier behind" - on or off the battlefield. To our veterans past and present, and to all of our men and women in uniform, we thank you for your service. Your dedication and sacrifices strengthen our country and keep alive the patriotic ideals embodied in our great Declaration of Independence, including our "unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
********** Published: July 3, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 11