Marquette Mining Journal: Proper care of our veterans must be a national priority

Every Veterans Day, we honor the sacrifices of the brave servicemen and women who put their lives on the line in defense of our nation and our values.

Since our country's founding, the United States has been a beacon of hope and freedom throughout the world, thanks in large part to the dedication and sacrifice of our armed forces.

America owes a debt of gratitude to our servicemembers and veterans, and we must support them from their first day of basic training through their transition back to civilian life.

Michigan is the proud home to more than 650,000 veterans, including over 6,500 veterans in Marquette County and over 30,000 across the entire Upper Peninsula.

They have served with distinction in numerous conflicts from World War II and Korea to Vietnam and Desert Storm.

But Michigan is also welcoming a growing generation of new veterans- the more than 50,000 who served following the Sept. 11 attack on our country.

As servicemembers transition to civilian life, they face many challenges. Unfortunately, too many suffer from serious mental traumas like post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury-invisible wounds that can go undiagnosed or untreated during and after military service. These stresses are serious and widespread among veterans.

The National Center for PTSD estimates that 11-20 percentof veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom suffer from PTSD during any given year, and as many as 30 percent of Vietnam veterans suffered from PTSD at some point in their life.

Even if it goes undiagnosed at the time, servicemembers suffering from traumas like PTSD or TBI may exhibit abnormal conduct, such as chronic lateness to work or poor attendance.

This behavior-viewed as minor misconduct-results in servicemembers receiving a less-than-honorable discharge that makes them ineligible for certain benefits, including G.I. education benefits and VA home loans.

More than 600,000 post-9/11 veterans have left the service with a less-than-honorable discharge.

No veteran should lose their hard-earned benefits because of mental trauma directly resulting from their military service.

That is why I introduced bipartisan legislation, along with Republican Senators Steve Daines of Montana and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, to give veterans suffering from mental health traumas a second chance.

The Fairness for Veterans Act creates a presumption in favor of the veteran when petitioning the Secretary of Defense for an upgrade in discharge status based on medical evidence of mental trauma certified by the VA or a private physician.

This gives veterans a fair opportunity to present evidence and request an upgrade in their discharge status in order to reestablish their eligibility for benefits.

I am honored this legislation has the support of our nation's major veteran groups, including the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled Veterans of America, the Military Officers Association of America, the American Legion and Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Supporting our veterans is also a personal issue for me. My father was a World War II veteran who served in Europe as a member of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and he later used the G.I. benefits he earned through his service to go to college.

The values of service my father instilled in me inspired me to join the U.S. Navy Reserve and serve as a lieutenant commander.

Standing with our veterans is not a partisan commitment, it's a promise we've made as a country. The Fairness for Veterans Act will help veterans who were improperly discharged after honorably serving our nation get a fair shot at a second chance.

As we mark Veterans Day this year, let us recommit ourselves to ensuring our nation's heroes are properly honored for their service and their sacrifice.

By:  US Senator Gary Peters
Source: Marquette Mining Journal