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Rep. Peterson: We need to put vets first

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A few weeks ago, I had the honor of nominating Montevideo veteran Orice Larson for the Patriot Award. This honor was awarded to Mr. Larson for his service to our country in World War II, and for his dedication to serving veterans in his community for many decades following his military service.

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This award is granted by the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP), a program that encourages safe education and handling of firearms. I was proud to be a part of the presentation of this award to Orice, who served our country in World War II as a Supply Sergeant for 179th Infantry. His unit served in the Battle of the Bulge and infiltrated the Eagles Nest, Hitler’s final stronghold at the end of the war.

Orice’s life has been full of colorful anecdotes. Since his retirement from the service, he has been a devoted member of veterans’ organizations. He served in numerous roles as a member of the American Legion, the Disabled American Vets, and as a Commander, Service Officer, and Chaplain to the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

As part of his award from the CMP, Orice was given an antique M1 Garand Rifle, which turned out to be the exact same model rifle he carried with him in World War II. I’m proud to honor veterans and heroes like Orice and will be forever grateful for their service to our Nation.

Our country’s veterans are continuing to return from service with pressing needs. I am committed to making sure that veterans have timely access to benefits they have earned, and I am frustrated by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) backlog of claims for disability compensation

As a result of the recent government shutdown, veterans experienced further delays in the processing of their disability claims. Survivors and family members suffered the added pain of having to wait to bury their loved ones in National Cemeteries. Outreach and public engagement efforts were suspended, leaving vulnerable veterans unaware of benefits and services when they may need them the most.

The one thing that wasn’t affected by the government shutdown was veterans’ health care. VA hospitals, medical centers and clinics remained fully operational. Inpatient and outpatient care, surgeries, prescriptions, mental health, nursing homes and special health care services for women weren’t affected by the lapse in appropriations.

Why is this? Because medical care accounts are funded through an advanced appropriations mechanism that puts the necessary funding in place two-years in advance. As a result, the failure to pass appropriations in a current year does not impact veterans’ health benefits and services. Nearly ninety percent of VA discretionary funding is for veteran health care, and is protected under this advanced appropriation mechanism.

That’s why I support and asked House Leadership to bring up for a vote H.R. 813, which extends the advanced appropriations mechanism to include the remaining VA’s discretionary accounts.

My unwavering commitment is founded on a solemn promise to put veterans first. It’s the least we can do.

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