Supporting military, veterans are important

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 6, 2019

By Rep. Bradley Byrne

One of the highest honors from my time in Congress has been the many interactions I’ve had with members of our nation’s armed forces and our veterans.

Throughout the long history of the United States, countless Americans have served our country honorably in the military. Many made the ultimate sacrifice.

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There is no greater way to say “thank you” to our fighting men and women and our veterans than by ensuring they are taken care of both during and after their service, with the most up-to-date weapons systems and funding to carry out their missions, and with commonsense solutions to veterans issues.

I am proud to once again serve on the House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, and Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. These are two important roles that directly impact the state of Alabama and our country.

My work on the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee is important to the 4,000 people working at Austal shipyard in Southwest Alabama and the 2,000 Alabamians who work at Huntington Ingalls in Pascagoula, Miss. These two shipyards are crucial to the U.S. Navy’s goal of a 355-ship fleet.

My work on the Strategic Forces Subcommittee is crucial for Alabama as many of the missile defense systems are designed and built in places like Huntsville and Troy. Having of a strong missile defense program is obviously vital to the security of our entire nation.

Not only is it necessary to take care of our servicemembers while they are on active duty, but it is our responsibility to care for our veterans as well. A career of service never ends for members of the armed forces, and we cannot fail them.

One of the ways I am continuing to advocate for our veterans is by supporting policies that will get them the benefits they deserve. For example, I am proud to support the Retired Pay Restoration Act to ensure all military retirees with service-connected disabilities get their military retirement and disability payments concurrently.

Currently, veterans with under a 50 percent service-connected disability rating have their disability pay deducted from their retirement pay, even though they are completely different benefits. I will continue to fight for this legislation until our veterans get all of their disability and retirement compensation.

I continue to fight for veterans who were exposed to the toxic herbicide, Agent Orange, during the Vietnam War. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act allows the thousands of veterans of the Vietnam War who served in “blue-water” Navy posts off Vietnam’s shoreline to receive benefits for this service connected disability.

And last Wednesday, I joined 20 of my colleagues in sending a letter to the superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery and the secretary of the Army to allow American flags to be carried by visitors in Arlington Cemetery.

It only makes sense that in one of the most sacred places in the United States, Americans should be able to represent their patriotism openly and clearly through the display of an American flag. It is just a small way we can express our gratitude for those who paid the ultimate price for the freedom our flag represents.

Ensuring our service members can adequately defend and protect our nation both at home and abroad, taking care of our veterans, and honoring those who have given their all is the least we can do as Americans.

Alabama’s role in the defense of our nation, both past and present, is something we should all take immense pride in, and I am glad to know that our great state is paving the way for a safer world and a stronger America.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne represents the 1st Congressional District of Alabama, which includes Escambia County.