By Ryan J. Foley
Congress has made historic progress in the last four years expanding education and health care benefits for veterans and military families, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday.
Speaking to the American Legion national convention in Milwaukee, Pelosi made the case that the Democratic-controlled house she has led -- and that is trying to hang on to power in November -- has delivered for veterans and will keep doing so.
She said she took the reins as speaker in 2006 with a 'to-do list' on veterans legislation, and Congress worked with the American Legion and other veterans groups to take action.
'As a result, together we made more progress over the last four years for our veterans and military families than has been made since the passage of the original GI Bill in 1944,' she said.
She said those accomplishments include the new GI Bill for those who have served on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001. The program, which promises four years worth of college benefits, has already helped more than 300,000 veterans and their family members seek college degrees, she said.
She noted that Congress extended the benefits to the children of those killed in action. She told the story of Marine Gunnery Sgt. John David Fry, who was killed by a bomb in Iraq after defusing nearly 100 others. She said his three children 'will now be able to go to college because of their father's service and sacrifice.'
'Educating our nation's veterans is a cost of war, and it is a promise we make to our troops for their courageous service to our country,' she said, to applause.
Pelosi, who represents a liberal San Francisco district, said a record increase in funding for veterans health care has meant thousands more nurses and doctors and more clinics. Expanded eligibility means an additional 300,000 'modest-income' individuals are receiving health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs for the first time, she said.
She noted that Congress has also increased the reimbursement rate for veterans who have to travel to receive health care. She also touted $13 billion in disability compensation provided to those suffering from health problems related to Agent Orange, which was used in Vietnam to kill jungle foliage.
But Pelosi said 'our work is not complete' and Congress will work to increase employment opportunities for veterans, reduce homelessness among them and treat those wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
She called on Americans to set aside their opinions of the war in Iraq to ensure a smooth transition for the troops who are returning home after the end of combat operations.
'We'll welcome them home as the heroes that they are,' she said.