Veterans Day provides us the opportunity to stop and take a moment to thank those who have served our nation as members of our armed services. These men and women, and their families, have made great sacrifices to defend the United States and deserve our utmost gratitude.
As vice chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, I have made it a priority throughout my tenure in Congress to work with my colleagues to ensure the needs of our veterans are met. Earlier this year, legislation I sponsored was signed into law that directed the VA to obtain and distribute comprehensive information about institutions of higher learning, so our service members could make more informed decisions when they choose to use their Post-9/11 GI benefits. In addition, the House recently passed the Veterans Economic Opportunity Act to improve our service members’ access to educational and medical benefits, as well as professional opportunities.
Congress is also working with the VA to improve the processing of veterans’ disability claims to reduce the backlog and ensure claims are processed in a timely and accurate manner. However, there is more we can do to assist our service members, especially when it involves the invisible wounds of our recent wars.
Technological advances have made it possible for men and women to survive injuries on the battlefield that would have previously been fatal. As our nation’s heroes reintegrate into society, they are faced with physical and mental challenges that have not been addressed in years past. Injuries, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury, are sometimes ignored or overlooked due to the stigmas associated with seeking treatment. There has also been a sharp rise in suicide rates among our veterans.
Although the VA has committed to hiring more mental health professionals to meet the growing need, we as a community must also be there to support our veterans and encourage them to seek treatment when they need it. The Veterans Crisis Line, 1-800-273-8255, offers confidential, free, 24-hour support for all veterans and service members, including members of the National Guard and Reserve.
Let us always remember the importance of remaining vigilant and supporting our heroes upon their return home.
U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, represents the 12th Congressional District, which includes Pasco County and parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas.