Published November 10, 2007
The following is a transcript of the Democratic response by Rep. Joe Sestak to President Bush's radio address:
Good morning, I am Congressman Joe Sestak from Pennsylvania. I am a former three-star Admiral who was fortunate to have served this nation in the fury of war and the challenges of peace for 31 years in our Navy. I am also the son of a Navy Captain who fought in World War II.
Today, I would like to talk to you about all of those who have worn the cloth of this nation and the covenant that our country has to care for our veterans who have ensured that America would always remain worthy of its ideals.
What has made our veterans' profession so special is that it has the dignity of danger in a common cause where there is a higher purpose to life than oneself. There is a painting that hangs in the Pentagon that depicts a serviceman with his family in church. Clearly, he is praying before a deployment and long separation. Below the painting is a quote from Isaiah in which God asks, "Whom shall I send; who will go for us?" And Isaiah replies, "Here am I; send me." Every veteran has said, "Here am I, America, send me."
And in doing so, they have become part of a special brotherhood, where serving together forms a bond that stands the eternal test of time, with a memory that also finds the grandest sepulcher of all — a home in the hearts of brave men and women. But our solemn obligation to our veterans for the service they gave goes well beyond this memory.
Today, Americans are fighting two wars with casualty rates far higher and tours of duty far longer than the planners of those conflicts ever estimated, and with our returning veterans facing increased challenges from health care and educational needs to job opportunities. At the same time, our World War II, Korean, Vietnam and first Gulf War veterans are faced with medical challenges and expenses that they could not have anticipated, and a new study out this week found that one in four of our nation's homeless is a veteran.
Tomorrow is Veterans Day, a special opportunity not only to reflect on the sacrifices of those who have served us nobly, but to ensure that our veterans are honored by action as well as remembrance for the freedoms they and their families have earned for us all.
Today, our troops serving overseas in two wars — and their families — represent less than one 1 percent of our nation's 300 million citizens as they carry the burden of the current conflicts. It is therefore not only critical that Congress is working for a new direction in Iraq, but also that we recognize that the people in uniform today look to us to see how we relate to our veterans, which they will soon become. That is why the Democrats in Congress are working together with the President to see that veterans — aging and young — and their families receive the benefits they need and deserve.
The New Direction Congress has supported landmark legislation to increase the Veterans budget by $6.7 billion dollars — the largest single increase in the 77-year history of the Veterans Administration. And there is a $4.4 billion dollar increase in Veterans medical care, including $600 million additional dollars for new initiatives for mental health and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Each war is different: our World War II veterans were in combat on average for six months — in the most horrific of battles — with some dwell time in between for physical and mental rest. Today, our soldiers and Marines in Iraq go outside the wire into combat every day for 15 straight months, with many returning for several tours. That is why 17 percent of service members returning from the war have experienced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and over one third of returning veterans suffer from a mental health problem like depression or anxiety — and why Congress acted.
Democrats have also expanded resources for traumatic brain injury and research and rehabilitation, while extending from two to four years, following discharge from the military, the eligibility period to receive medical care by the Veterans Administration. And we added thousands of VA case workers to reduce unconscionable delays in getting veterans the care they need.
Our service members are a national treasure that stir our hearts and spur our conscious by their actions. And as veterans, this 'band of brothers' remains a national treasure, having put their lives and their faith in America. In return, we must continue to keep faith with them. That is why the Democratic Congress is keeping our covenant to care for our veterans and their families.
I am Congressman Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District. Thank you very much for listening.