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Jackson Cit Pat: Benefits for veterans need to be a top priority

May 27, 2014
Opinion Editorial

Memorial Day is a time when we commemorate the ultimate sacrifice made by the men and women who died in military service. As we reflect on the tremendous sacrifices that members of our armed forces and their families make when they serve our country, we must also remember our responsibility to assist those returning from the battlefield. Our warriors have served us and now we have a duty to serve them and ensure their successful transition back to civilian life. 

As your representative in Washington, I'm dedicated to upholding our nation's commitments and remain actively involved in supporting our troops. I introduced the Service Members Transition Improvement Act, a bipartisan effort to assist service members as they transition to civilian life by strengthening the connection between the separating soldiers and veteran service organizations. The bill was recently included as an amendment in the National Defense Authorization Act passed in the House of Representatives.

Additionally, the House recently passed the fiscal year 2015 Military Construction and Veteran's Affairs funding bill to fund our nation's military infrastructure, boost veterans programs and make government work better for our veterans.  I was happy to vote in favor of this legislation because our 660,000 veterans in Michigan deserve the best in return for their dedication and sacrifice to our country. 

Fellow Michiganders, Corporal Duane Dewey and Private First Class Robert Simanek, whose heroic actions during the Korean War earned the Congressional Medal of Honor, highlight why we honor our veterans with robust programs for education, job training and healthcare. 

While serving as a gunner in a machine gun platoon, Cpl. Dewey threw himself on an enemy grenade that landed close to his position while he and his assistant gunner were receiving medical attention for their wounds.  Although suffering intense pain, Cpl. Dewey immediately pulled his fellow corpsman to the ground and shouted a warning to the other marines around him. His actions likely saved his comrades from possible injury or even death.

Similarly, while accompanying a patrol en route to a combat outpost, Pfc. Simanek exhibited a high degree of courage and a resolute spirit of self-sacrifice in protecting the lives of his fellow marines. Determined to save his unit during an ambush, he threw himself on a grenade which shielded his fellow marines from serious injury or death. 

These harrowing stories of bravery remind us of the sacrifice American soldiers are willing to make to protect their comrades and their country. They deserve the utmost appreciation, and for this reason I recently introduced the Medal of Honor Priority Care Act, which seeks to give priority one status to all Medal of Honor recipients to ensure they receive the highest level of care from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). 

Most Medal of Honor recipients never make the journey home, and today, there are only 78 recipients living across the country - including Mr. Dewey and Mr. Simanek.  As their stories show, Medal of Honor recipients have gone above and beyond the call of duty and distinguished themselves as heroes. They have received the highest award within the Armed Services and it is fitting that these brave soldiers be allotted first Priority Status when enrolling for their VA health care benefits. 

Veterans benefits are deserved and earned through service and sacrifice and it's important that both Republicans and Democrats work together to give these men and women the assistance and tools they need to be successful when they come home. It remains the right and honorable thing to do and I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure our heroes are honored by the country they serve. 

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