Veterans Day is a time to reflect on the service and sacrifice of those who dedicated their lives and risked their safety to protect our nation and our way of life. It is one of my greatest honors as a member of Congress to meet the men and women across the Fourth District who demonstrated tremendous bravery and acts of heroism during their time of service.
In May, I had the pleasure of attending the Congressional Gold Medal award ceremony for Mr. Bobby Gene “Bob” Ross, a 94-year-old World War II United States Merchant Marine Veteran from El Dorado. This ceremony was the first time a Merchant Marine has received the Congressional Gold Medal. Mr. Ross joined the Merchant Marines in 1942, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor,when he was only 14-years-old. Mr. Ross served in the South Pacific and Atlantic, where he earned the South Pacific Victory Medal, the Pacific War Zone Bar, and the Atlantic War Zone Bar. The Merchant Marines suffered the highest rate of casualties of any service branch in WWII, with 1 in 26 mariners dying in the line of duty. About 12,000 members were injured or taken prisoner. Imagine how brave a 14-year-old had to be to join that amazing group of young men. That’s why it was such a privilege to meet Mr. Ross and be a part of honoring him with the Congressional Gold Medal
Individuals like Mr. Ross exemplify the very best of the American spirit, but all too often, our veterans are not repaid properly for their service. My office continually hears from folks who have troubles with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and in this year alone, my office has assisted over 130 Fourth District veterans with issues involving the VA, including with problems receiving the benefits they have earned. Our veterans were promised that they would be provided care for life upon their retirement from service, but they have often been denied benefits despite ample evidence of a connection between their time in service and their health status.
That is why I introduced two bipartisan bills in the 117th Congress to ensure veterans who were exposed to chemical herbicides while serving their country receive the benefits they have earned. I also sent a letter with the Arkansas Congressional delegation to address VA staffing shortages that contribute to long wait times and unreliable service. Our veterans have sacrificed everything in service of our nation. It is the least we can do to ensure they receive the best of what our country has to offer.
Quality health care is the minimum that our veterans deserve. Providing them with the ability to enjoy the nation they defended is critical too. That’s why I cosponsored the Veterans in Parks (VIP) Act, which recently became law. It allows veterans, active-duty servicemembers, and Gold Star Families to access our beautiful national parks for free.
This Veterans Day, take a moment to thank our veterans who dedicated their lives to service of our great nation. These men and women are patriots and deserve the very best our nation has to offer. I am honored to continue fighting for our veterans in Congress and ensuring these extraordinary men and women continue receiving the benefits they have earned.