Kuster: It’s time we serve those who served us
Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., right, participates in a mock swearing-in ceremony with Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, for the 113th Congress on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013 in Washington. The real swearing-in occurs on the House floor. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
I’m the daughter and daughter-in-law of World War II veterans.
My father, Malcolm McLane, flew 63 missions in his P-47 fighter plane before being shot down in the Battle of the Bulge on Christmas Eve in 1944. He spent the last six months of the war in a German prisoner-of-war camp.
My husband’s father, Bob Kuster, set up advance communications for the Army. He landed on the beaches of Normandy – while my father flew cover overhead – and his unit liberated the concentration camps at the end of the war.
Earlier this month, as I was appointed to the House Veterans Affairs Committee in the U.S. Congress, my thoughts turned to my father and father-in-law, and the generations of veterans who have sacrificed so much to protect our country and way of life.
As a nation, we have no higher responsibility than to honor their service and sacrifice – not just one day a year, but every day; not just with our words, but with our actions. As a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, that’s exactly what I will do.
Our work starts with ensuring that all veterans have access to high-quality health care. The men and women of our armed forces put their lives on the line every day to defend our freedom. When they come home, we owe them and their families the peace of mind that comes from knowing they have access to medical care they can count on.
Before coming to Congress, I brought the private and public sectors together to make health care more accessible and affordable in New Hampshire.
I will use that experience to improve medical care for our veterans and make the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs more efficient, so that every taxpayer dollar in the VA’s budget advances a simple mission: supporting our veterans.
New Hampshire is the only state in the country without a full-service VA hospital. Right now, there are disabled, wounded and elderly veterans in our district who have to drive hours and cross state lines just to get their medical care. That’s wrong, and I will work with our state’s entire congressional delegation to change it.
In fact, the first bill I co-sponsored as a member of Congress was Rep. Carol Shea-Porter’s Veterans Health Equity Act, which would require the VA to provide New Hampshire veterans with the same level of in-state, full-service hospital care available in every other state. This legislation has won past support from Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte, which is exactly the type of bipartisan collaboration we need more of in Congress.
Beyond improving medical care, we must also ensure that veterans transitioning to civilian life can get good jobs. Today, more than 2,000 New Hampshire veterans are out of work. We have to do better than that – and we can.
Here in New Hampshire, there are advanced manufacturers and other businesses looking to hire skilled workers, and there are highly-skilled veterans looking for jobs. We can reduce veteran unemployment by helping every returning hero get the education and training needed to compete in today’s job market, which will give our businesses the help they need to compete in the global economy.
As more veterans find good jobs, we can also put an end to veteran homelessness. On any given night, as many as 60,000 veterans are without a home in America. While veteran homelessness is on the decline, we shouldn’t be satisfied until that number gets to zero.
Addressing these challenges won’t be easy. It won’t happen overnight. But helping our veterans should never be a partisan issue. In New Hampshire, we look out for one another. We have each other’s backs.
And when it comes to caring for the veterans who put their lives on the line to keep us safe, we step up and do the right thing – regardless of politics. That’s the kind of state we are.
So let’s bring Republicans and Democrats together to give our veterans the health care they’ve earned. Let’s give our heroes the training they need to get well-paying jobs when they come home. Let’s put an end to veteran homelessness.
And as we do, let’s remember that it’s only because of generations of selfless veterans like my father and father-in-law that we’re able to live in a country that’s safe, prosperous and free.
So please, take a moment today to thank a veteran. And if you are a veteran in need of help, or if you know a veteran who requires assistance, please call my office in Concord at 226-1002, or my office in Nashua at 595-2006 so my staff and I can be of service.
(Democratic Rep. Ann McLane Kuster represents New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District. She serves on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.)