The men and women of America's armed forces make great sacrifices for our freedom and security. As befits a great nation, America makes a strong commitment to care for these veterans when they are wounded in the course of their service. In Congress, I have always advocated for the necessary funding to meet this commitment, and I will continue to do so, even in times of great pressure on the budget.
During recent debate over the Senate's budget resolution, I worked with Senators from both parties to secure unanimous approval for an amendment to encourage the expansion of access to health care for rural veterans through telehealth and other programs. This amendment seeks to reduce the burdens of travel for veterans to reach VA medical facilities. The provision was added to the underlying veterans section of the Senate budget resolution, which also calls for improved processing of benefits claims.
Families often have to make extraordinary sacrifices to care for loved ones who return home from war unable to live independently, which is why I helped pass a bill to provide support programs including training, certifications, health care, counseling, respite, financial and other ongoing support services for family caregivers of wounded veterans.
U.S. military installations in Afghanistan and Iraq have relied on open-air burn pits to dispose of waste materials, resulting in service members at those installations inhaling toxic fumes. Despite objections from the VA, I pushed ahead with and passed legislation requiring the VA to keep track of veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals and fumes from open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. I also voted to protect another generation of soldiers exposed to wartime toxins by stopping an attempt to make it harder for Vietnam soldiers to claim benefits for diseases caused by exposure to Agent Orange.
Our veterans have secured our freedom to live, work, and pursue happiness at home. They deserve every opportunity to succeed when they transition back to civilian life. Every generation of veterans has played a key role in America's economic growth, but the soldiers returning home from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other assignments in recent years have faced unusual hardship from tough economic times.
G.I. Bill For The 21st Century
I was proud to cosponsor an expansion of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which I had co-sponsored while in the House in 2008. This new expansion provides tuition benefits for trade and vocational schools in addition to traditional four-year colleges.
Easing The Transition Into The Workplace
In the last congress, I sought to help ease the transition of returning veterans into the workplace and cosponsored the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, which required jobs skills training programs for service members as they leave the military, and gave recent veterans top priority for federal civilian jobs upon exiting the service. It also expanded rehabilitation programs soldiers with service-connected disabilities seeking to re-enter the workforce. That bill was incorporated into the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, which became law with additional tax incentives for hiring unemployed veterans. This year, I have cosponsored a bill to extend that legislation through 2016.
At the height of the economic recession, I stepped forward to pass an amendment to the American Recovery Act that expanded tax credits for employers who hire veterans. In 2011, I also supported the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, which provides tax credits for employers who hire Veterans with service-connected disabilities. I will continue to push veterans education, transition, and hiring assistance to accelerate our economy and ensure veterans have every opportunity to succeed upon their return home.
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