Honoring Our Arkansas Veterans By: U.S. Senator Blanche L. Lincoln

Each year on Veterans Day, we pay tribute to the 274,000 Arkansans and 25 million Americans who have served our country in the Armed Services. It is a time to reflect upon the sacrifices they have made and the ideals for which they have fought.

Along with all Arkansans, I send my prayers to the families and loved ones of those who were tragically killed in last week’s shooting at Fort Hood. I pray that those injured make a full and speedy recovery. This senseless tragedy reminds us all how precious life is.  I am grateful for the service and sacrifice of all our military service members and their families.

My father and both grandfathers served our nation in uniform and taught me from an early age about the sacrifices our troops and their families make to keep our nation free. That’s just one of the reasons I’m so honored to help recognize our Arkansas veterans for a special Veterans Day ceremony at the State Capitol this week.

While it is important to honor those who have served our country in uniform with words, we also must honor them with our actions. I have consistently supported initiatives that expand the benefits our veterans have earned and deserve. During these tough economic times, it is even more important that we don’t shortchange our Arkansas veterans.

This year, I have authored several bills on behalf of Arkansas military service members, veterans and their families.  I have focused on the following priorities: requiring more accessible health care for Guardsmen and Reservists so they can maintain the medical readiness required to fulfill their missions; ensuring that future GI Bill benefits for members of the National Guard and Reserve keep pace with the national average cost of tuition; reimbursing members of the Selected Reserve for drill travel expenses in excess of 50 miles, including mileage, meals, and lodging at the standard government rate; and granting full veteran status to members of the reserve components who have 20 or more years of service and do not otherwise qualify under law.

With more than 600,000 courageous men and women who have returned from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and with thousands more on the way, mental health care is an issue that also deserves more attention.  I have visited injured servicemembers at Walter Reed and in Arkansas and witnessed firsthand that more and more of our troops are affected by service-connected mental health issues such as Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  To address this issue, I have introduced legislation to ensure that our troops receive proper mental health assessments before and after they enter a conflict zone.

The issue of mental health does not just affect our troops.  With more National Guard and Reservists from our rural communities serving abroad, families have expressed concern about the impact increased military deployments have on children and whether schools have sufficient resources to meet these challenges. To meet these concerns, I have also introduced legislation to increase the number of school counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists in high-need school districts, many of which are located in rural areas.

All of our veterans—from the Greatest Generation to Vietnam War veterans to the new generation of servicemembers in the Middle East and across the globe—have sacrificed greatly on behalf of our country.  Although the challenges and needs of veterans have changed over time, one thing remains constant: it is the responsibility of our nation to provide the tools necessary to care for our country’s returning servicemembers and honor the commitment our nation made when we sent them into harm’s way. Our grateful nation will not forget them when their military service is complete. It is the least we can do for those whom we owe so much.