Thank you James (James O. Wood, King County Veteran) for that kind introduction.
I also want to thank and recognize Steve Muro Commander William Hayden, Reverend Larry Redlesperger, and James Trimbo.
Just being here today and looking around it is very easy to get a sense of the tremendous sacrifices the men and women who sign up to serve our country make.
Each of these headstones is a poignant reminder of a brother, a father, a son, or a daughter who laid their life on the line to protect all of us.
But as we have seen recently, you don’t have to be on hallowed ground like this to be reminded of the great commitment our men and women in uniform are making for us every single day.
Fort Hood/Fort Lewis
In fact, you saw it yesterday, in the heart wrenching ceremony at Fort Hood where the military community said goodbye to 12 soldiers and a civilian contractor from right here in our state.
A contractor who chose to spend his days working to help heal the physical wounds of veterans in rural communities - communities where our veterans desperately need care and we desperately need health care workers.
You also saw it at Ft. Lewis, where yesterday the Vice President came to speak to honor the lives of seven young soldiers who died recently in Afghanistan when their Stryker was hit by a roadside bomb.
Again and again, we see that the men and women who sign up to serve are willing to meet any challenge, undertake any mission, and make any sacrifice. And it is because of their sacrifice that we can safely enjoy the freedoms our great country offers.
It is because of their unmatched commitment that America can remain a beacon for democracy and freedom throughout the world.
You know, growing up, I saw firsthand the many ways that military service can affect both veterans and their families.
My father served in World War II and was among the first soldiers to land on Okinawa. He came home as a disabled veteran and was eventually diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
Like many soldiers of his generation, my father did not talk about his experiences during the war.
In fact, we only learned that he had been awarded the Purple Heart by reading his journals after he passed away.
And I think that experience offers a larger lesson about veterans in general.
Our veterans are often reluctant to call attention to their service, and they are reluctant to ask for help.
That's why we've got to publicly recognize their sacrifices and contributions. It's up to us to make sure that they get the recognition they have earned - and not just on Veterans Day.
Our veterans held up their end of the deal, now we must hold up ours.
Work in the Senate
When I was in college I got the opportunity to volunteer at the Seattle VA at a time when Vietnam War veterans were returning home with the physical and mental wounds of war.
My experience there had a profound effect on me.
It made me realize that when we send our young people off to war we must spare no expense to provide the care they need when they return home.
At that time of course, I never imagined that I would be able to take that important lesson all the way to the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs - but doing so has been one of the greatest privileges of my life.
And while in Congress we have made some very important strides in veterans care, there is always much more to do.
I am proud to say that we are working to pass a historic funding increase in veterans funding over the next five years.
And that we have passed a new GI bill that finally keeps pace with the rising cost of college.
But we still have work to do to reduce the time our veterans have to wait for benefits, to improve the care available to women veterans, to provide homeless veterans with stable housing and the dignity that comes with it, and to provide mental health care to veterans returning home with the invisible wounds of war.
Father, Caregiver and Son
You know, just yesterday in the Senate, I was reminded of the dedication of our veterans, the debt we owe them, and the strides we still have to make to help them and their families.
Yesterday, I met a father and son from North Carolina named Ed and Eric Edmondson.
Eric Edmondson is an Army Specialist who served in Iraq and suffered a severe Traumatic Brain Injury in 2005 due to an IED.
Eric returned home from Iraq as a quadriplegic and his father Ed quit his job to care for him full time.
Ed’s efforts to take care of his son have kept him out of a nursing home and have had a positive impact on his recovery and his quality of life.
In fact, between the support and care provided by a rehabilitation clinic and his family, Eric’s condition has improved beyond his doctor’s wildest dreams.
However, because of Ed’s commitment to care for his son, he had to give up his job and with no income or insurance, he has completely depleted his savings.
Ed came to advocate for a bill that I’m working to support that will provide a stipend, health care, and support for these caregivers.
A bill that must be part of the continued promise we make to our veterans.
A promise that we must remember on this and every Veterans Day.
The same promise Abraham Lincoln made to America’s veterans 140 years ago when he said that we must “care for the veteran who has borne the battle, his widow and his orphan,”
I thank all of the veterans and their families here for their service and sacrifice to our nation and I will keep working to fulfill our promise to you.