COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | BRIAN BILBRAY

Every day is Veterans Day

San Diego County is home to more than 240,000 veterans and today on Veterans Day we remember each one of them is owed a debt of honor that can never be fully repaid. We should never forget that freedom isn't free.

From the Revolutionary War to today’s operations in the Middle East and around the world, America’s veterans have carried the torch against our nation’s number one enemy: tyranny. Our veterans defended our rights in World War II, served with honor in Vietnam, and have -- since the Declaration of Independence -- kept America free.

In the past, America’s appreciation to her veterans has been less than adequate. Today, I'm proud to report that America has made a renewed effort to these brave men and women. Those of us who serve on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs have the honor of working on behalf of our veterans who have protected these United States -- and the ideals upon which this country was founded.

Across the country, Americans have called on Democrats and Republicans to put partisan politics aside and do what's right for our fighting men and women. Those of us on the House Veterans Committee are proud to say that our committee has heard this call, set politics aside and worked together in a bipartisan fashion to make things better for America’s veterans.

The entire Veterans Committee knows that one of the greatest problems facing the Veterans Administration (VA) is making sure they have the resources necessary to keep our veterans healthy when they come home.

Over the last few decades, the budget for the VA became a political target for opportunistic politicians on both sides of the aisle. As many veterans know, Washington’s political tactics caused the VA to receive funding on-time only four times out of the last 20 years. Because of this, the VA operated a health care system under constant pressure to provide a basic level of care with insufficient resources, even while an increasing number of veterans were returning home from active duty.

To fix this, the committee worked together, in a bipartisan fashion and under the leadership of fellow San Diegan and Committee Chairman Bob Filner to support a new law that mandates a two-year budget for the VA. This system forces our government to ensure our veterans receive the health care resources they need in a timely and professional manner.

President Obama agreed with our plan and signed H.R. 1016, the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009, into law this past October. H.R. 1016 is not only the right solution for our veterans, but it has the potential to serve as an example for fiscal responsibility for the rest of the federal budget.

Another benefit to our veterans is the GI Bill. Unfortunately, Washington politics again caused this benefit to deteriorate throughout the years. Our veterans ended up in dire need of help with the resources we promised them: financial assistance, tuition assistance, access to benefits for our reservists who were giving more of themselves than ever before and help with making sure veterans’ families did not live in poverty.

Those of us on the veterans committee fought to update the GI Bill, created a bi-partisan effort and passed H.R. 5470, the Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008. It was an honor to work on that bill, and our committee is proud to report that H.R. 5470 has also been signed into law.

Legislation is one thing, but let us never forget the importance of showing our appreciation in other ways. The simplest way to do this is to take the time to say "Thank you for your service to America." Thank you for putting yourself in harms way. And thank you for being the brave men and women who truly make America the land of the free.

Congressman Bilbray represents the 50th Congressional District of California and is a member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

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