Senator John Thune
This month we pause to thank and pay tribute to the veterans and active members of the military who have risked life and limb protecting our freedoms. Their selfless service has played a defining role in shaping who we are as South Dakotans, and their leadership on veterans’ issues is crucial in guiding the discussion as we seek to provide for those who have answered the call to defend the freedoms of all Americans.
The service numbers for our state are remarkable, especially given South Dakota’s relatively small population. Approximately 32,000 South Dakotans served in World War I, 65,000 served in World War II, 26,000 in the Korean War, 28,000 in the Vietnam War, and 5,600 in the Gulf War. The men and women of Ellsworth Air Force Base continue to serve as a key component of our military capabilities, maintaining global reach and deterrence with the B-1B bomber and MQ-9 Reaper. And, the citizen-soldiers of the South Dakota National Guard have responded to domestic emergencies and have repeatedly deployed throughout the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, always performing to the highest of standards.
We owe our veterans a tremendous debt, and I am committed to ensuring that our veterans receive the resources they deserve for the sacrifices they have made for our country. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a solemn responsibility to be a leader in serving our veterans, especially when it comes to specialty care to address the lasting wounds of battle. There is no reason that the men and women who served should be subjected to unacceptably long wait times or drive hundreds of miles just to see a primary doctor for the flu or get a routine screening test.
Our veterans deserve better. That’s why I responded to the VA scandals this summer by introducing legislation to require the VA inspector general to investigate national wait times for veterans seeking medical appointments and treatment from the VA. My bill would also prohibit the VA from closing any health care facilities or utilizing funds to conduct Environmental Impact Statements concerning closures until the IG’s report is released.
I also supported the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014, which seeks to reduce veteran wait times and travel for care. I will continue to work with my colleagues across the aisle to address the shortcomings in VA care, and I will work with VA Secretary McDonald to hold VA officials accountable to the men and women they aim to serve.As Americans gather to celebrate Veterans Day and reflect on the service of those who have bravely served in our armed forces, let us redouble our efforts to support those who have served our nation. From simple acts of kindness to opportunities for employment, we as Americans must never take for granted the sacrifices undertaken by our veterans. These men and women have protected our nation and fought in the name of liberty all over the world. They deserve our sincere respect and gratitude. I encourage all South Dakotans to honor the sacrifice of our veterans and keep the brave members of our military and their families in our thoughts and prayers as they continue to serve on our behalf.