"Good morning, I'm Congressman Chet Edwards of Texas. As the son of a World War II veteran, I have always wondered how we can adequately thank those who have served our nation in uniform.
"What can we say to a deployed soldier who cannot be by his wife's side when their child is born? How do express our feelings to the 29-year-old widow I met at Ft. Hood, Texas, who was holding her newborn baby who will never meet his father? When our troops are deployed overseas, there are no makeup days for missed graduations, children's birthdays, or anniversaries.
"It is right to honor our veterans and their families with our speeches on Veterans and Memorial Day. It is even better to honor them every day with quality health care and earned benefits. Unfortunately, in recent years, Bush Administration and Republican congressional budgets seemed to have put a higher priority on tax cuts for the wealthiest than on health care benefits for veterans.
"That is changing. This year the new House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has kept her promise that improving health care and benefits for veterans will be the highest of priorities for Democrats in Congress. Just last week, the House passed the largest increase in veterans' health care funding in our nation's history - $6 billion more in 2008, which is $3.8 billion above the President's budget proposal.
"For weeks, the White House budget office threatened to veto this bill, because it was above their request. Fortunately, the President finally backed down on his threat to this historic veterans' bill, but only after it was clear that Congress would override a veto.
"When it comes to honoring our veterans, the new Congress will match our words with our deeds. The unprecedented $6 billion increase for veterans' health care services is all about respect - respect for the unselfish sacrifice of our troops and our veterans and their families. This veterans' bill is about keeping our promise to those who have kept their promise to defend our nation.
"It is about our nation's future security, because we cannot attract the best and brightest to serve in tomorrow's military if we break faith with those who served yesterday. For 5.8 million veterans, our bill means more qualified doctors and nurses to improve medical services and to reduce long waiting times for doctors' appointments.
"For veterans with traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, mental health care issues, and lost limbs, it means renewed hope to rebuild their lives. For many of the 200,000 homeless veterans in America, it means the dignity of not having to sleep on the streets and hope for a better future. For 400,000 veterans, including combat wounded vets, whose earned benefits are being delayed by over six months, this bill means 1,100 new VA case workers to ensure that needed benefits are received without delay.
"This bill also honors and supports our active duty troops, members of the National Guard and Reserves and their families by providing $207 million above the President's request for better military housing, health care, and training facilities.
"On Thanksgiving morning in 2005, my wife, our two young sons, and I visited a 21-year-old hospitalized soldier who had just lost his leg in combat. I will never forget his words: 'Sir, I am proud to have served my country, and I would be proud to serve it again.' My family was deeply humbled and inspired by this young soldier's spirit and his selfless service to country.
"As we consider our many blessings as Americans, I hope and pray we will never forget that we are the land of the free, because we are still the home of the brave. May God bless our troops, our veterans, and their families, and may God bless America.
"I'm Congressman Chet Edwards of Texas. Thank you for listening."