This Veterans Day, we again find ourselves engaged in conflicts around the world. Our troops are serving with valor, and we should keep them in our thoughts and prayers. We are grateful to them and to all of our veterans who have held the line in defense of liberty since the birth of our country.
This week's historic election changed the composition of Congress, but what will not change is my commitment to getting our troops the help they need to lead stable, healthy and productive lives during and after service. Unfortunately, gaps need to be addressed in our support for our returning service members.
Veterans' health care is funded at the discretion of Congress; it must compete with other priorities for money on an annual basis. But caring for our veterans is not optional. A key step to fulfilling our obligation to our veterans would be to make funding for veterans' health care guaranteed — like Social Security and Medicare.
Mental-health support for veterans must also be improved. A recent GAO study found that the VA spent only a fraction of the $300 million allocated for mental-health care outreach, while at the same time the House Veterans Affairs Committee found that almost half of surveyed VA health centers are less able to provide mental-health services due to the influx of veterans of Iraq's and Afghanistan's wars.
Fort Lewis is a national leader in mental-health outreach, and I look forward to helping expand their innovations to the larger Armed Services.
We must also renew our efforts to end the Disabled Veterans' Tax, which forces military retirees with service-connected disabilities to give up one dollar of their pension for every dollar of disability pay. While Congress enacted a partial repeal in recent years, this unfair tax should be repealed for the remaining 400,000 disabled military retirees.
My Democratic colleagues and I have worked to try to fill these gaps, in part through a GI Bill of Rights for the 21st century. This agenda focuses on improving veterans' health care and expanding mental-health care outreach and services. I believe we can find a fiscally responsible way to expand these benefits, whether that means cutting other spending, repealing the tax cuts for the wealthiest among us, or a combination of the two. I look forward to working in a bipartisan way to make that happen in the next Congress.
America boasts the best-trained, most-professional troops in the world. They and their families make enormous sacrifices on our behalf and have earned our support and gratitude. I am humbled by their service and proud to represent so many of them. This Veterans Day, let us remember their courage, their sacrifices and our commitments to them.