Remembering the Promise We Make to Our Military Veterans

Every U.S. Senator brings experiences that help shape their thinking on a variety of issues. For me, it was an internship at the Seattle VA.

I was a student at Washington State University during the Vietnam War, and even though I came from a military family — my father was a World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient — I soon discovered that little prepared me for the moment I heard the door lock behind me at the hospital’s psychiatric ward. From then on, I spent time with combat veterans my own age who had seen and endured things most Americans could never imagine.

It was a brief but profound glimpse into the sacrifice our military men and women make. To this day that experience drives my solemn belief that when we send men and women to fight for our freedoms and defend our democracy, we make a promise to care for them long after the war is over.

To this day, that experience drives my solemn belief that when we send men and women to fight for our freedoms and defend our democracy, we make a promise to care for them long after the war is over.

There are obvious ways our country needs to step up to deliver on that promise, starting with VA care. As a country, we must work to ensure veterans have timely access to the health services they earned in their service to our nation, both today and in the future. This means a strong VA system equipped to handle the needs of veterans no matter where they live, and VA facilities capable of delivering high-quality care for the changing needs of today’s military, including for women, the fastest-growing population of veterans.

That also means better access to mental health care. When I was at the Seattle VA, no one spoke of PTSD because the science and the public awareness wasn’t there — people didn’t understand what these veterans were going through. But thanks to a lot of research, much of it conducted through VA, medical professionals today are far better equipped to help anyone struggling with mental health issues.

Our country should also support investments that move us toward the goal of ending veteran homelessness so not a single veteran is ever forced to sleep on the streets. And I’m proud that earlier this year, Congress passed legislation to expand the G.I. Bill program, giving greater flexibility to veterans to pursue the careers they want after dedicating their time to serving our country.

It’s not only veterans who need our support, but also their caregivers — often a spouse, family member or friend. These hidden heroes don’t necessarily wear a uniform or go overseas, but they too sacrifice a lot to care for a loved one who comes home with injuries. Because of the Military and Veteran Caregiver Program, thousands of veterans and their caregivers have greater flexibility to choose their care, and better systems in place to support veterans’ recovery. But right now, the program is only available to certain veterans. I’m fighting to make sure Congress opens this proven program to veterans of all eras so all veterans and their caregivers get the support they deserve.

As a country, we must work to ensure veterans have timely access to the health services they earned in their service to our nation, both today and in the future.

These are just a few ways our country can fulfill its promise to the brave men and women who put their lives on hold to fight for our freedoms — the list goes on.

But here’s where you can start. This Veterans Day, take time to not only express gratitude for the servicemembers who bravely answered the call of duty, but also recommit to do more, and do better, for those who have served our great nation. I’ll do the same.

Sen. Patty Murray is the senior senator from Washington state. She was the first female to chair the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. This post originally appeared in The Hill.

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Senator Patty Murray

Senator Patty Murray

Official account of U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)