By Marco Rubio
Even as social trust declines, the armed forces receive the highest favorability rating among national institutions. It testifies to the many ways that our military men and women have served, and continue to serve, their country. But are we holding up our end of the bargain when these patriots come home?
That’s the question lawmakers were forced to reckon with last year. While service members suffered from exposure to burn pits and related toxins, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) denied and delayed care and benefits. But no longer.
I worked across the aisle to advance a bill ensuring our veterans did not have to spend years fighting the very people charged with caring for them. Fortunately, the scandal in the press forced my colleagues in Congress to join me, and together we passed the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, which is now providing long-overdue relief to veterans in need. But my work isn’t finished. There is still a lot to be done in Washington for America’s military and the men and women who have served in it.
For one, many veterans continue to struggle reentering civilian life after coming home from duty. The veteran unemployment rate is falling, but our nation’s economic woes don’t make things easy for anybody, especially when the VA is overloaded with disability compensation and pension claims.
Another problem is the scams and rip-offs that target veterans in their daily life and at the VA. Too many American heroes are promised high-quality care from their government but instead receive shoddy exams by unlicensed physicians. And that doesn’t even get to the criminals who prey on vets to steal valuable benefits.
Meanwhile, our active-duty forces require constant vigilance to maintain their combat readiness. Service members supply most of that vigilance on their own, but it takes public policy to defend our testing and training capacities from cooption by the pressures of energy exploration and commercial development.
For these reasons and more, I am reintroducing seven bills to address military and veterans’ issues. My legislation would prioritize employment and education programs at the VA, install new protections against fraud and abuse for veterans, and safeguard Florida’s Gulf Test Range from development. It would also expand aid to survivors of domestic abuse by service members and ensure homeless veterans get the attention and care they need.
My package also contains a bill to have the Navy prioritize donating retired vessels to states to be used as artificial reefs, which better honors the brave sailors who served on these ships than turning them into scrap metal. In Florida, we are no strangers to the decline of habitat for marine species. Bolstering our state’s already-robust artificial reef program with retired naval vessels will strengthen our ecosystem and pay homage to veterans’ service.
Even if all these bills become law, there will be more work to be done on Capitol Hill. Nevertheless, it would be a good start. I call on my colleagues in Congress to join me in passing legislation that gives back to our military men and women. It’s the least they deserve.