As Americans observed Veterans Day on Tuesday, we were reminded only
too vividly of the tragedy and heartache of war. The news out of Iraq
has been grim, and our community mourns the death of local soldiers
like Lt. Todd Bryant, who graduated from La Canada High School and
was killed just days ago in a car explosion outside of Baghdad, or
Marine Lance Cpl. Donald John Cline Jr., a 21-year-old former La
Crescenta resident who died in March during combat in Iraq.
While I recognize that many Californians have differing views of
the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq, I would hope that all
Californians can agree that Nov. 11 is a day to reflect on what we
can and must do to help all of our veterans -- whether they served in
World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm or in Afghanistan and
California is home to the nation’s largest veteran population,
with some 3.3 million former armed services personnel living within
the state’s boundaries. Veterans make up 20% of our total state
population, while nationally, California is home to more than 12% of
the country’s veterans.
Our veterans often have unique difficulties. Prolonged deployment
causes personal and financial hardships for soldiers and their
families. Upon returning from war, veterans are expected to rebuild
the lives they left behind, reenter the job force and adjust to
civilian society again. Veterans go through all this, sacrificing
their own personal safety and well-being, to protect ours.
Changing U.S. policy has created new problems for today’s veterans
and their families. The role of reservists is shifting from short
tours of duty to longer, more frequent time commitments. These
unexpected longer tours of duty are causing personal and financial
hardship. Recently, the U.S. has relied much more heavily on
reservists in places like Korea, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.
However, reservists receive fewer benefits than their active-duty
counterparts, especially health-care benefits. Reservists receive
health care from the federal government only when deployed into
active duty, unlike their counterparts.
In addition, the Bush administration’s new tiered health-care
rules will result in thousands of veterans losing their health-care
benefits. The administration’s failure to adjust the Department of
Veterans’ Affairs budget to keep up with burgeoning demands has
already resulted in reduced services and longer waits for existing
services. If we are going to maintain the world’s greatest military
force, we must ensure that those brave enough to enlist to defend
this nation are provided basic health services. We should all urge
President Bush and Congress to revisit this issue.
Here in California, with a growing number of National Guard troops
being called up, the Legislature this year passed legislation to
provide up to $11,000 in loan repayment assistance for those members
attending California colleges. Guard members called to duty are also
allowed to take academic leave without adverse effect on their
records. Currently, 47 other states offer this benefit to their
National Guard members. The Legislature also passed AB 1036 to ease
the rules for financing home improvements and to increase the amount
of money a veteran can take out with a Cal-Vet loan for their homes.
But the state and federal government are not the only forces that
can make significant efforts to help veterans. Locally, we as
citizens can and should do more. We can reach out to our soldiers
overseas through local programs like Hands Across the Battlefield.
Founded by Vietnam veteran Mark Cutter of Burbank and managed by
Vietnam veteran Mickey Depallo, Hands Across the Battlefield ships
nine tons of needed supplies a year to our soldiers overseas. I am
proud that my office has been able to contribute to this important
program for the past two years. This program can always use
volunteers and contributions of durable goods. For more information,
call (818) 238-5390 or write Hands Across the Battlefield at Verdugo
Recreation Center, 3201 W. Verdugo Ave., Burbank 91505.
Veterans need and deserve our appreciation and recognition more
than just one day a year. Supporting them means working year-round to
help them lead successful lives long after their official service to
our country has ended. In these turbulent times, ensuring the
well-being of veterans and their families provides us with an
opportunity to come together as communities, and as a nation, to
honor the great sacrifices our men and women in uniform have made.
* ASSEMBLYMAN DARIO FROMMER represents the 43rd District, which
includes Burbank. He can be reached via his Web site at
https://democrats.assembly.ca.gov /members/a43/ or call his Glendale
district office at 240-6330.