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INHOFE: America still honors her heroes

Protecting those who protect us

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Honor Flights bring veterans from around the country to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials of the wars in which they fought. The current focus is on World War II veterans and any veteran who has a terminal illness. Without these fitting tributes, many of them would never get to see their memorial. When these flights come from Oklahoma, I am honored with the privilege of meeting the veterans at their memorial and thanking them for their service. From World War II, Korea and Vietnam to our current combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Veterans Day is our opportunity to rededicate ourselves to remembering all our veterans' sacrifices and committing ourselves to rightly fulfilling our obligations to them and their families.

Our veterans and their families face many challenges, and they have earned and deserve our full support.

Some have suffered life-altering physical injuries. That is why reliable funding for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is important to address health issues through good care, quality facilities and strong medical and prosthetic research. It also is why further addressing trends related to post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury is vitally important.

Others have made the ultimate sacrifice defending our liberty. We owe even more to their families. When fathers and mothers and spouses don't come home, our hearts break. The loss leaves both children and spouses in need. Making sure their benefits are not cut or reduced must be a priority. That is why some of us in Congress fought so hard to allow these family members to receive both the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) without one unfairly offsetting the other. We must take care of these Americans who sacrificed so much to safeguard our freedom.

For older veterans, Congress must remain vigilant in making sure care and support are provided. Veterans nursing homes need appropriate funding and must be run properly and able to meet specific needs. In July, Congress passed a law to address the issue of inadequate reimbursement to state veterans homes caring for our elderly and severely service-disabled veterans. According to the National Association of State Veterans Homes, the VA has yet to begin fulfilling the law, and its February 2013 deadline to do so is approaching swiftly. Delay from the VA is unacceptable when quality care for our veterans is at stake.

Far too often, our brave men and women who fought foreign enemies return home to find that they must fight the bureaucracy that is supposed to serve them. In some cases, they even have to fight for the benefits they were promised. Those types of situations are far too common, and that is simply unconscionable.

The story of an Oklahoma disabled veteran highlights the often silent plight of some who served our country. This particular veteran's monthly benefits were cut drastically, impacting his ability to pay for basic needs. After he appealed to the VA, his stipend was increased, but instances such as his are far too common, and they don't always end favorably for the veteran as in this case.

One benefit most recently threatened was the military and veterans health care system known as Tricare. Faced with another year of more than $1 trillion in deficit spending, President Obama proposed a 345 percent increase in premiums for Tricare, another effort to reduce federal spending on the backs of the military. Such a drastic increase in out-of-pocket costs for veterans on limited incomes would have priced them out of this earned benefit. Congress so far has refused to endorse passing on this drastic cost increase to the military and our veterans.

In the midst of America's current fiscal situation, we should prioritize our national defense and veterans. A strong national defense includes taking care of those who have gone before us to protect the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

At the height of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, more than 188,000 troops were deployed, with an additional 100,000 in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility providing support. Our forces were stretched thin and given short breaks between deployments, causing hardships and health strains. They've risked their lives for the cause of freedom, and it is essential we don't put at risk the benefits they have earned.

There were dark days not so long ago in America when our returning service members were not greeted with the cheers and open arms they deserved. As a people, we must never again act so shamefully. As we welcome home today's heroes and those of future generations, a great way to applaud their sacrifice and service is to safeguard their benefits.

While we set aside this Veterans Day to commemorate the bravery and work of all who have worn the uniform, both past and present, honoring veterans must be done each day by committing as a nation to providing the resources they need and have earned.

Sen. James M. Inhofe is an Oklahoma Republican.

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