Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate, urging Republicans to allow the Senate to begin debating the Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act:
“Later today, we will move to a motion to proceed on the Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act. At a time when 150,000 men and women are serving our country bravely in Iraq, providing for our veterans is one of our most important responsibilities. The Veterans Benefits legislation was reported out of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee nine months ago.
- 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.
“This legislation should pass overwhelmingly, if not unanimously. Yet as they have done time and time again, Republicans have chosen to slow-walk this bill. While our Republican friends are stalling for time, our veterans – men and women, young and old, who have served with distinction – continue to wait for the support, care and services they have earned.
“I understand that some of my Republican colleagues oppose the provision in the bill that provides pensions to Filipino veterans who fought on our side in World War II. I find this opposition somewhat baffling. With threats emerging in every corner of our complex world, America needs allies. We should be sending a message to the world – we need you to stand with us. We cannot fight the global war on terror alone.
“What better message to send our global allies than that we will honor the past service of men and women born on foreign soil who rallied around our flag and fought for our freedom?
“My Republican friend from North Carolina argues that we should not be providing pensions for Filipino soldiers who served our country but were not injured during World War II. We must remember that in World War II, only 20 percent – one in five – of our troops served on the front lines, taking enemy fire. The other 80 percent provided support services. They were engaged in intelligence gathering. They transported and maintained equipment. They repaired combat vehicles. They cooked food.
“It cannot be argued that those 80 percent were any less a part of the war. It cannot be argued that their sacrifices don’t count. It cannot be argued that these men and women are less entitled to the benefits of their veteran status.
“I urge my Republican colleagues to join me in finally providing a pension for the brave Filipino troops who stood with us, fought for us, and helped us win World War II. I hope Republicans will support all components of this legislation.
“But it should be known that I have reached out to the Republican leader on more than one occasion, offering to work with him on this bill. I have told the Republican leader that if his side of the aisle objects to parts of this crucial bill, they are encouraged to offer relevant amendments. If the majority of Senators vote for the amendment, the bill will be altered. That is how the legislative process is supposed to work. Unfortunately, the Republican leader has not responded positively to my offer.
“We should not have to invoke cloture on a motion to proceed simply so to begin to legislate. This afternoon, we will need just a few Republicans to stand with us to start debating this legislation. We are not even asking Republicans to support the bill at this point – just to support moving to debate it. So I ask my Republican colleagues – let us debate, let us offer amendments, let us legislate. For our veterans, young and old, nine months is long enough to wait.”