President Eisenhower proclaimed the first Veterans Day in 1954 as a day of thanksgiving for our citizens to reflect and celebrate their neighbors, friends, and loved ones who have fought for our nation. On this day, we reflect on the enormous tasks, risks, and hardships that an increasingly small portion of our citizenry has taken on to defend our nation and protect our freedoms.
Our men and women in uniform and their families make great sacrifices. In return, we must uphold our promises to them as a nation. As you celebrate our veterans on this special day, I'd like to remind you of the many ways we can express our gratitude.
First, pay tribute to our veterans by doing what you can personally. South Mississippi is fortunate to have one of the nation's largest veteran populations. Our veterans, from World War II to Iraq and Afghanistan, are a national treasure. They are true patriots who stood up and answered the call to serve. Our Greatest Generation lived during a time when nothing was handed to you, but earned through your own merits. We can continue to express our gratitude by honoring their accomplishments and lives, thus ensuring their legacies are carried on.
Our younger veterans are returning home now to transition into the civilian sector, a transition that isn't always easy for them. We must support them and honor them as the heroes they are. We must treat their wounds both visible and invisible. We must utilize the skills that we have spent countless dollars training them for. They are leaders who have, at the age of 19, made more meaningful decisions in their lives than many twice their age. Vets don't want a hand out. They want an opportunity, and you will be surprised by what they can do for your businesses, organizations or teams.
Secondly, we owe it to our veterans to provide a functional government and society.
They leave their families for extended periods of time and often risk their lives to provide us safety and security here at home. We are blessed to live in the greatest nation in the world built upon freedom, but freedom isn't free. In fact, it is paid for in the blood, sweat and tears of our brave men and women in uniform. We can show our gratitude each day by simply working to better ourselves and our communities.
Finally, we must fulfill our commitment to our veterans and hold our federal agencies accountable. Last year, I was ashamed and outraged to find out about the deplorable treatment of our veterans by our VA hospitals. I began working to bring immediate solutions to these problems by holding veterans forums across South Mississippi to hear firsthand from local veterans. In response to their concerns, I worked tirelessly to pass legislation to correct these injustices. Since that time, Congress has increased funding by $15 billion to improve access to VA health care.
During that period, up to 20 percent of appointments were completed through doctors and clinics in the communities. This represents a huge improvement that is directly related to legislation passed in the House of Representatives to ensure they are not forced to wait long periods of times for appointments due to overload in the system or incompetent leadership. If a veteran cannot see a VA doctor, he or she should be able to receive private care at no cost to that veteran.
After more than a year of investigations shedding light on the problems within our VA hospitals, we still have a long way to go. The government cannot continue to throw money at the problem if it isn't producing results. We must also continue to hold leadership responsible by making it clear that we expect to see results. If they don't improve the system, then they will be removed and replaced with someone who will. The House has passed legislation to ensure that poor-performing VA employees can be fired, not just reassigned.
Veterans Day is a special day for South Mississippi. Every one of us has friends, family and neighbors who serve or have served. The commitments we make to them are more than just talking points; they are unwritten contracts that we will take care of those who have taken care of us and ensured our safety, at home and abroad.
God bless all our men and women in uniform and their families.
Contact Steven Palazzo, District 4 representative in the U.S. House, at Congressman.Palazzo@mail.house.gov