The following is a transcript of this week's Democratic radio address:
Hello, I'm Senator Patrick Leahy from Vermont.
Today, as we go about our daily lives, hundreds of thousands of other Americans are deployed around the world protecting our freedom.
We have more than 130,000 Americans stationed in Iraq alone. Not all Americans agreed with the decision to go to war in Iraq. But all of us
stand together in supporting our men and women in uniform.
In many ways, this is a new American military. A full 40 percent of our troops serving in Iraq are part of our National Guard and Reserves. They are serving side by side with the equally brave members of our active duty forces.
These are men and women who have answered the call to duty — leaving behind their families, their jobs and their careers to serve our nation.
Ever since the attacks of September 11th, we have turned early and often to our National Guard. By now, many are serving far longer than they were told they would, and hundreds of thousands of other reservists are standing by, awaiting the call to duty.
As we are seeing right now at the conference on Iraq in Spain, we are having to shoulder more than our share of the risks to our troops and the costs of the war and its aftermath. That's because the White House squandered the reservoir of the world's goodwill that we had immediately after September 11th. If we are going to succeed in rebuilding Iraq, we need to build a REAL coalition, based on respect for our allies, to share the burden.
As a Senator from Vermont, I know first hand about the sacrifices that our active duty troops and reservists are making. Members of the Vermont National Guard are helping to train the new Afghan Army. And I am particularly proud that Vermont has the highest rate of Guard participation of any state.
But I am concerned that our nation is not doing all it should to support the brave men and women hailing from all 50 states who are serving our country.
As co-chairman of the United States Senate National Guard Caucus, it concerns me that President Bush and his administration are not holding up their end of the bargain.
Hard as it is to understand, the Bush Administration opposes guaranteeing basic health insurance to every member of the Guard and Reserves.
The American people have some tough questions for President Bush and his Administration.
They are asking American taxpayers for $87 billion for Iraq, including $33,000 per Iraqi pick-up truck, $50,000 per Iraqi jail cell and millions for new Iraqi zip codes. They want millions more for Iraqi health care and for former Iraqi soldiers. And in the meantime they have given billion-dollar no-bid contracts to well-connected corporations like Halliburton. How can they ask for all of these things, yet refuse to provide the money to ensure the health of our OWN citizen soldiers?
Fortunately, many members of Congress are working hard to get the Administration to change its position.
The good news is, Democrats and Republicans worked together to add this health coverage for the Guard to the President's $87 billion spending bill for Iraq.
The bad news is the White House strongly opposes this National Guard health plan. They want it out of the final bill before it gets to the President's desk.
They say it's not related to the war effort. But they're wrong. And it's time for the country to come together to support our reservists, their families and their employers.
For all of us, there is more we can do. All of us can contribute to the family and employer support programs in our communities. Let's not forget that many of our reservists are also our police officers, firefighters, civil servants, and key private-sector workers.
Employers are rightly keeping their positions open when employees answer the call, but more federal support should be offered to allow these employers to thrive and to support reserve families.
And then we have to welcome these proud men and women back from their service abroad like the brave Americans they are, and nothing less.
Let me tell you a terrible story: More than 600 members of the National Guard and the Reserves right now are in medical limbo in Fort Stewart Georgia — not well enough to rejoin their units, not sick enough to be hospitalized. They are living in sub-standard barracks, without adequate medical care. Some were wounded in Iraq. Others fell ill before their deployment. These reservists should be sent to other facilities closer to their families to receive medical attention to await their reviews. Let's not leave any of those who are serving our country and in the Guard or the Reserves out in the cold.
Health insurance. Family support. Proper medical treatment. That's what
Democrats are fighting for.
Americans are counting on our National Guard and Reserves for our security, and they need to know that they can count on us. They are our neighbors and friends, they and their families are carrying a mighty burden for each American, and we owe them our support.
We can't afford to let our Guard down.
Thank you, and God Bless America.