We owe our independence to our veterans

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

For many Americans, the Fourth of July is about traditions -- grilling in the backyard with family, watching fireworks with friends or spending a day on the lake. While those traditions give us many fond memories over the years, we should remind ourselves that our nation's struggle for independence is what the Fourth of July is really about.

When the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, they condemned tyranny and embraced democracy. Our nation's forefathers shed their blood to create a free nation, and we hold our liberty dear today because of their actions.

We should take time to thank those who ensure we remain a free nation. We could not continue to enjoy our independence without the service of the men and women in the Armed Forces. They and their families have made tremendous sacrifices so that we may live free and enjoy even simple celebrations such as holiday gatherings with family and friends.

My father and my uncle served in World War II, and they taught me the importance of honoring the commitments made to our veterans.

I took those lessons to Congress, and that's why I have worked to make sure our nation's commitments to our veterans are honored.

Unfortunately, the country hasn't always lived up to its obligations. In recent years, inadequate funding has produced long waiting lines, reduced services and limited outreach to let veterans know about benefits available to them.

But now, Congress is taking steps to reverse those trends.

I voted to end the chronic underfunding of the VA health care system by providing the VA with the single largest funding increase in its 77-year history. This much-needed funding will help the VA meet the physical and mental health care needs of our veterans and reduce the backlogs that plague the disability ratings system.

In addition, the U.S. House of Representatives has approved legislation that would improve training for medical care case managers, health care professionals and patient advocates. Another bill would improve the transition of wounded service members from the Armed Forces to the Veterans Affairs system.

The men and women who have defended our freedom deserve no less than our unwavering support and gratitude. As we enjoy our traditional Fourth of July events this year, I encourage everyone to take a moment to thank a veteran for protecting the independence that we are able to celebrate.