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Honoring America's veterans, past and present

By Staff
Congressman Jo Bonner
This week each of us will have the opportunity to pay tribute to the men and women who have served over the years in America's armed forces, and honor the courage and sacrifice of those who continue to serve in the present day.
Veterans Day means many things to many people. During the course of that honored day a wide range of emotions are experienced by the millions of men, women and children who take part in the day's many activities.
The efforts made over the past 227 years to defend our most basic, fundamental freedoms – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – have been nothing short of inspirational. I have never in my lifetime lost my respect and awe for the men and women who voluntarily put their lives on hold and devote themselves to the defense of this country, its citizens, and the all-encompassing spirit of independence.
While it is just as important to remember and honor the efforts and sacrifices of the veterans of long-ago conflicts, it is equally necessary that we work to provide the best care and resources possible for our current military veterans.
During the first 10 months of the 108th Congress, the House of Representatives has taken meaningful steps to ensure that we meet our responsibilities to these men and women and provide them with the support they need. Let me take just a moment to highlight some of the more significant accomplishments from this year:
An appropriations measure passed by the House for the operation of the Veterans Health Administration in 2004 increased by $1.4 billion over last year's total to $27.2 billion. This amount includes $15.8 billion for veterans with service connected health care needs, $1.9 billion for veterans with non-service connected needs, and $408 million for medical and prosthetic research.
A total of $1.1 billion was allocated in the Veterans Health Care Facilities Capital Improvement Act for the improvement, renovation, replacement or establishment of VA patient care facilities.
Montgomery GI Bill educational and training benefits for current and former members of the military were increased by 46 percent over the previous year's funding levels.
The Veterans Entrepreneurship and Benefits Improvement Act provides disabled veterans with assistance in the start-up or expansion of small businesses.
Of course, this is only a very brief list of what the House has accomplished this year. A full list would also include improvements in enhanced survivor benefits, assistance programs for low-income and homeless veterans, capital gain exclusion benefits for military personnel and veterans, and many other programs designed to provide assistance to our former military members.
For the men and women who have done so much to protect this nation, I would like to say thank you – not only for me, but for my family, friends and constituents who continue to live in the peace and freedom for which our troops fought so bravely and continue to defend to this day.
Secretary of Commerce to visit Port City
As I mentioned in this column just a few short weeks ago, the positive news which has come out of Washington in recent days is a very good indication that the economic slump the nation has experienced for over two years is finally beginning to reverse itself.
Retail sales, new home sales, non-farm payroll jobs and consumer spending have all increased. The most recent – and perhaps strongest – indication of an improved economy was the 7.2 percent increase in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the third quarter of this year. That stands as the largest single-quarter increase in 19 years.
With all of this positive news, however, our focus should now be on finding ways to translate this national turnaround into new jobs and better opportunities for the families of South Alabama. As such, I am very pleased that the United States Secretary of Commerce, Donald Evans, will be in Mobile Nov. 17 to deliver the keynote address at the Southwest Alabama Leadership Forum.
This conference – of which I am proud to serve as honorary host – is being sponsored by the nonpartisan Public Forum Institute of Washington, D.C., and will begin at 8 a.m. at the Adam's Mark Hotel in downtown Mobile.
The forum, which is free and open to the public (although there will be a
nominal charge for lunch), brings together community and corporate leaders, small business owners, elected officials, and many other men and women whose single purpose is to shift the national economic momentum back home to Southwest Alabama.
As I have said many times in recent days, news on retail sales and new homes and jobs is certainly welcome, but its true importance means little to those families without access to jobs, homes and disposable income.
This conference is very timely in light of the good news coming out of our nation's capital, and I would certainly encourage anyone interested in learning more about how we can bring about positive economic changes in our region to take part. If you would like to receive more information on the upcoming summit with Secretary Evans, I would encourage you to visit the Forum's web site at www.publicforuminstitute.org.
Please call or write whenever we can be of service.
Congressman Jo Bonner is a Republican from Mobile. His offices may be reached by calling toll-free to 1-800-288-8721 or by e-mail at www.house.gov/bonner