Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate regarding the Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Nearly nine months ago – in August of last year – the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee reported the Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act to the Senate floor. At a time when 150,000 young Americans are serving, sacrificing and suffering in Iraq, this legislation would provide much-needed and long-overdue benefits from veterans young and old.
“The Veterans Benefits Enhance Act:
- expands eligibility for traumatic injury insurance;
- extends eligibility for specially adapted housing benefits to veterans with severe burns;
- increases benefits for veterans pursuing apprenticeships or on-job training programs; and
- restores veteran status to Filipino veterans who served under United States command during World War II.
“America’s commitment to the men and women who have served in uniform must never waver. At a time when one in five young men and women return from Iraq and Afghanistan with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other psychological illness, this legislation should have come to the Senate floor with no delay. At a time when tens of thousands of our troops are returning from war with wounds, many grievous, this legislation should have passed overwhelmingly, if not unanimously.
“Almost every day, wounded veterans come to my office just off the floor of the Senate for a tour. I often have a chance to visit with these young men and women. Some of them are still teenagers. I have seen their scars. I have heard how their lives have been forever changed. All of us have met these young heroes from our states.
“No matter what position we take on the war in Iraq, we should all agree that providing for these veterans – and those who wore the uniform before them – is among our most solemn responsibilities.
“The Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act is one important part of fulfilling that responsibility. Every Senator has a right to oppose legislation that they do not support.
“In my time as Majority Leader, I have tried to work with the Republican leader to reach consensus on legislation on which members of the minority raise objections. I have made repeated efforts to do so on the Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act. I have told my Republican counterpart – if the Republican side of the aisle objects to parts of this crucial bill, they are encouraged to offer relevant amendments.
“Unfortunately, the Republican leader has not responded positively to my offer. As a result, I was forced Thursday night to file cloture on the ‘motion to proceed’ simply so that we could finally start debating this legislation. I would have preferred not to have to file cloture, just as I wish it had not been necessary on the Highway Technical corrections bill. But when legislation that would honor and care for our veterans languishes for nine months because Republicans are unwilling to work with Democrats, I have no other choice.
“As the dedicated government-watchers and C-SPAN-watching insomniacs know, this is far from the first time the Republican minority has rejected our good-faith efforts at reaching compromise. Time and time again, they have chosen obstruction over negotiation.
“It seems at times like this that our Republican friends would rather that we accomplish nothing. Perhaps they see political advantage in slow-walking, but the American people are left to suffer for their actions.
“I understand that some on the Republican side object to the provision in the Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act that provides pensions to the Filipino veterans who bravely and patriotically fought alongside United States troops during World War II. The valor of those Filipino troops is beyond question. Those troops may have been born on foreign soil, but they served shoulder to shoulder under one flag – our American flag. It is our moral obligation to recognize and reward their heroism. It is long past time that we do so.
“It is time for our Republican colleagues to choose. Will they stand in lock-step with an obstinate few, intent on dragging their heels on the care and support our veterans need? We need just nine Republicans to join our side. Surely there are at least nine Republicans ready to stand on the side of our troops.
“Nine months is long enough to wait. Tomorrow, Republicans have a chance to join Democrats to pass the Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act. I extend my hand once more to the Republican leader and all of my colleagues in the minority. If they choose to end their needless obstruction, we can deliver an important victory to the men and women who have served us – and who serve us today – with courage, valor and distinction.”