On Veterans Day, we honor all those who have served and we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. We thank them for their service.
The three qualities that all our veterans possess are sacrifice, courage, and patriotism. The sacrifice to leave your hometown and family behind when called to duty. The courage to head into harm’s way when all your senses are telling you to retreat. And the patriotism to fight for the flag and the country that you love so dearly.
Massachusetts veterans are a special breed, because we have always been first to fight for freedom. But being first in freedom is not enough if we don’t put our veterans, their families, and the families of the fallen first as well. There are more than 388,000 veterans in Massachusetts. But too many of our bravest men and women return home unable to find a job. The unemployment rate for post 9-11 veterans ages 18 – 24 is more than 20%.
Up to 17% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD, depression, or anxiety. And up to 20% of all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans will suffer from traumatic brain injury. Our veterans are plagued by homelessness, substance abuse, and too many have ended their lives in suicide.
Our veterans are heroes, but sometimes even heroes need help. As we honor those who have fallen in battle or from injuries received in war, we also have an obligation when our veterans return home from the war zone. They need helping finding jobs, getting quality healthcare, and obtaining the benefits that they so richly deserve.
Job number one is to get all of our veterans a job. There are nearly 700,000 unemployed veterans in America. In 2012 nearly 10% of our nation’s veterans were unemployed. For post 9-11 veterans ages 18 to 24, the unemployment rate is 20%. That is unacceptable.
We need to expand job-training programs for veterans, put them to work right away, and expand opportunities for veteran-owned small businesses. We need to help veterans get jobs as firefighters, police officers, federal protection officers. We need to help them if they decide to open a small business.
We need to challenge the private sector to help us in this endeavor. We need to expand tax credits for companies that hire veterans. We also need to work with our brothers and sisters in labor to help veterans get certified in the building trades. When we put our veterans back to work, we put America back to work.
Veterans should always get the best services, benefits, and medical care.
Right now, the Department of Veterans Affairs is processing a record number of cases. But according to some reports, there are still more than 11,000 Massachusetts veterans who are waiting on benefits. We must not allow this to continue.
We need to fully fund the VA and cut this backlog. The VA needs to modernize the agency and we need to modernize our VA facilities throughout Massachusetts. I’m proud that Congress increased spending on the VA’s healthcare budget by 60% from 2007 to 2010, but we still have work to do. We need to make sure that the VA hospitals in Bedford, Brockton, West Roxbury, and Jamaica Plain can continue to provide the care that our Veterans deserve.
We can thank our veterans for the security they provided us by protecting Social Security for them. There are 9.3 million veterans on Social Security. That’s one fifth of all Social Security beneficiaries.
That’s why I oppose the move to cut benefits through Chained CPI. “CPI” is really just a fancy way of saying, “Cutting People’s Income.” It’s wrong, and I won’t support it. We should thank our veterans by expanding and enhancing their Social Security benefits.
Some years back, a constituent, Alice Del Rossi, came to my office. She had lost both her brother and his son to the Vietnam War. Her nephew’s name was on the Vietnam Wall but his father’s wasn’t, because he had died in Vietnam in 1956. At the time, no one who died in Vietnam before 1959 was allowed on the Wall, because we hadn’t recognized the existence of the war before then.
But the father’s sacrifice was just as real as his son’s. So Alice and I talked to the Defense Department and we got the father’s name placed on the wall. Etched into dark granite, father and son, honored veterans, were reunited.
Through our appreciation for our veterans, we affirm as a nation that we are one big family in freedom. And we need to take care of our family. We need to show our appreciation for our vets, and for their loved ones. And not just today, but every day of the year. With continued efforts to create jobs and deliver top quality health care services when veterans return home, we will keep faith with our brave men and women in the Armed Services and ensure that their commitment to our country is never forgotten.