It’s hard to put into words what it means to serve your country, to put on the uniform with your fellow patriots who are willing to protect and defend this great country, no matter what. It’s even more difficult to describe coming home from that service and not knowing what’s next.
As a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, I know the hardships that come with transitioning back to civilian life. As a member of Congress, I’m committed to making sure our veterans are not left behind, that they have the care they deserve and the opportunities to live a full, purpose-driven life. To do that, we need to give our military the resources they need to fulfill their missions while on active duty and find their new missions back home.
The United States has the greatest military in the world, but the 2013 sequestration left us with a serious readiness crisis. It’s critical to our national security that we invest in our technology, equipment, missile defenses, and most importantly, our troops.
The fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act provided the biggest pay raise in 9 years, giving our troops and their families the support they need. The 2019 NDAA also provided funding to increase safety, improve training, and help service members transitioning out of the military with greater access to on-the-job apprenticeship programs. Our men and women in uniform, and their families, sacrifice everything so that we here at home can have anything. From enlistment to retirement and everything in between, we must be there for our troops.
For years, the Department of Veterans Affairs has worked to recover from the scandals that consumed the agency in 2014. With legislation such as the Veterans Choice Act of 2014 and the VA Mission Act, we’ve made significant improvements such as providing better health care options for our veterans and finding solutions that strengthen and improve the VA and its facilities. We know many of our veterans struggle when they return home, and the statistics are truly staggering. Twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day, and thousands of veterans are homeless on any given night across the country. Raising awareness and improving VA resources is critical to ending both veteran suicide and homelessness.
I’m proud to represent one of the first cities to effectively end veteran homelessness through a multi-agency program that finds housing options and health resources for veterans in need. The Rockford model is now being replicated across the country and is critical to our nationwide mission to end all homelessness. In Congress, we’ve passed legislation to allocate grants to homeless veterans and put greater attention on the mental health struggles facing so many in our communities. There’s more work to do, but I’m encouraged by the bipartisan consensus we’ve found in getting our veterans the resources they have earned and most certainly deserve.
One of the big things that a service member needs when returning home is a sense of purpose. This can be fulfilled in a multitude of ways, but having a career that incorporates the skills acquired in the military can bring them a greater passion and fulfillment. The skills learned in the military are translatable to civilian jobs, but we must find ways to remove qualification barriers and improve the hiring process.
As the opioid crisis continues to plague communities nationwide, we are facing a serious shortage of EMTs. And yet many service members with EMT training have faced roadblocks to these jobs. I introduced the Veterans EMT Support Act, which was signed into law in 2016, to address the problem by helping states streamline their requirements and procedures to better assist veterans who completed military EMT training in the Armed Forces meet the certification, licensure, and other requirements to become civilian EMTs. These are critical jobs for those in the community, and a job perfect for a veteran who has dedicated his life to serving others.
Another important way we can help our veterans return to civilian life is with reliable access to the internet. I introduced the Improving Broadband Access for Veterans Act to make sure low-income veterans and those living in rural areas have broadband access to connect with loved ones, apply for jobs, access information on VA benefits and health services, and find valuable resources to cope with the challenges they face. Getting connected can make a world of difference to a veteran, and I was proud to see this bill signed into law, opening up opportunities for those in need.
As a nation, we owe a debt of gratitude to our veterans and their families. We need to be there for the men and women who put their lives on the line, while on active duty and when they return home. Whether it’s getting them the needed resources and health services, helping them match their skill set to a career, or connecting them to a lifeline for support, we can and must do more to help our military and guide them into civilian life with a renewed sense of purpose.
That is how we can show our military appreciation, by leaving no one behind, no matter what.
Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, is a U.S. representative in the 16th Congressional District of Illinois.