Political Insider

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Max Cleland: Pass Johnny Isakson’s VA bill by Memorial Day


It looks as if we’ve got a little bipartisanship going here. Below is an op-ed handed to us, in support of legislation currently before Congress:

By Max Cleland

On a hallowed bluff above the wind-swept beaches of France, more than 1 million citizens of the world annually visit the Normandy American Cemetery to honor the sacrifices of Americans who have their lives on D-Day and the during the liberation of Europe in World War II.

The 9,385 Americans buried there, including a father and son, remind the world of America’s sacrifice in defense of freedom at home and abroad. I am grateful their sacrifices are not forgotten.

Here at home, on Memorial Day, our nation will honor the 1 million Americans who have sacrificed, in the words of Lincoln, “their last full measure of devotion.” It is right that we remember their sacrifices.

As a combat veteran, I have to believe the heroes we honor on Memorial Day would also want us to remember the sacrifices of another group of veterans – our disabled veterans, many of whom continue to sacrifice every day, long after their combat is over.

Many of these veterans need comprehensive caregivers to deal with their daily challenges in life. I understand, because I left three limbs on the battlefields of Vietnam.

Between now and Memorial Day, Congress has the opportunity to honor our disabled veterans and millions of other veterans by passing the VA Mission Act. U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has been championing this important legislation for well over a year.

The House Veterans Affairs Committee just passed the bill on May 8. The day before that bipartisan vote, 38 of our nation’s most respected veterans and military service organizations -- including the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Paralyzed Veterans of America sent -- sent Isakson and other key congressional leaders a letter offering strong support for this “historic” legislation.

In their words, the VA Mission Act would expand the “VA’s comprehensive caregiver program…to veterans injured during World War II, the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf wars,” ending the injustice that comes with being denied much-needed, deserved and earned care.

The VA Mission Act, according to these 38 organizations, would also strengthen the VA’s ability to recruit, hire and retain quality medical personnel, realign and modernize the VA’s health care infrastructure, consolidate and reform the VA’s community care programs, extend funding for the current Veterans Choice Program for one year, and create integrated networks so that veterans have access to care when they need it.

These VA reforms, along with the new caregivers program for “aging and disabled veterans injured before Sept. 11, 2001,” are why those who have the backs of our veterans are speaking out to Congress to pass this critical legislation.

In this era of partisan politics, I applaud Senator Isakson and other members of Congress who are working hard on a bipartisan basis to pass the VA Mission Act before Memorial Day.

In Normandy and throughout Europe and the world, Americans who sacrificed their lives on the battlefield are honored on hallowed grounds of distant cemeteries. Here at home, it is time to honor our veterans who live every day with the physical and mental sacrifices of their service to country. It is time to pass the VA Mission Act.

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Max Cleland, 75, is a former U.S. senator from Georgia and former head of the Veterans Administration under President Jimmy Carter. He also served as secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission and chairman of the Arlington National Cemetery Advisory Commission.


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About the Author

Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.