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United States Senator Susan M. Collins


Address to Maine DAV Convention
May 13, 2011
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It is an honor to speak with you who have made such great sacrifices for our nation and
for our world.

America’s history has millions of authors – the patriots who put the comforts of civilian
life aside to advance the cause of freedom. Each of you has contributed an inspiring chapter.
Tomorrow, you will hear the remarkable chapter added by James Sheppard of the legendary
Tuskegee Airmen.

Although separated by time and place, these millions of chapters form a unified whole.
From Lexington and Concord to the conflicts of today, they tell a powerful story of courage and
sacrifice.

And each generation’s contributions inspire the generations to come. Let me give you an
example from the history we are now witnessing.

Shortly after 10 p.m. on Sunday, May 1, I checked my Blackberry and found urgent
messages to call the White House Situation Room. My first thought was that there had been a
terrorist attack or a thwarted terrorist plot. I did not expect the astonishing news that Osama bin
Laden had been killed in a U.S. military operation. The architect of the attacks on our country
that took the lives of nearly 3,000 people on September 11, 2001, and the mastermind and
inspiration for so much violence before and since, had been brought to justice.

In the nearly 10 years since the attacks of 9/11, the men and women of our intelligence
agencies never gave up in their relentless pursuit of this terrorist. Our national security leaders
worked as a seamless team, and President Obama made a gutsy decision to authorize the strike.
The intelligence reforms that helped analysts to piece together the trail were the result of a 2004
law Senator Joe Lieberman and I authored.

Of course, we are most grateful to the Navy SEALS who carried out this daring operation
with such incredible skill and courage. The skills they acquired through intense, demanding
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training. The courage they inherited from you and from all who have defended our freedom for
more than two centuries.

The training, technology, and coordination that came together on that Sunday are
powerful assets. But, as the successful operation against bin Laden so clearly proved, no asset is
greater than American resolve. Resolve is the theme that runs throughout American history.

You did your duty. Now, our nation now has a duty to you. We must strengthen our
commitment to the founding principle of this great organization: treaties are signed and the
battles of nations end, but the struggles of those disabled in war only begin when they return
home. For 91 years, the DAV has helped these brave men and women regain their health,
rebuild their lives, and further their education and job skills. Perhaps most important, the DAV
helps them rejoin the civilian world with the honor and respect they have earned at such great
cost.

Nothing is more crucial to advancing this cause than supporting health care benefits for
our veterans. During a time when nearly every other federal agency except the Pentagon had a
smaller budget than it had last year, I am pleased that Congress increased funding for veterans by
six percent to $56.5 billion in this year’s budget agreement. This continues the record level of
funding VA has been appropriated by Congress – funding which has increased more than 60
percent -- since 2007.

More work remains. In 2008, we began to fix the concurrent receipt problem for vets
who had a 100 percent service-connected disability. It is time to bring more relief from an unfair
policy that requires more than 500,000 disabled vets nation-wide to forfeit a dollar of their
military retirement pay for every dollar they receive in disability payments from the VA. Our
nation’s fiscal crisis requires decisive action and difficult choices. As we address this crisis,
however, we must not turn our backs on our veterans and their families.

Like you, I am deeply troubled by the VA’s claims backlog, which continues to impose
undue hardships on veterans and their families. Here in Maine, Togus has a commendable
record of completing disability and pension cases faster than the national average.

In fact, it is a testament to the Togus staff and the Maine work ethic that it has been called
upon to process claims from other states. As many of you know, Togus is working on national
claims related to the new presumptive disabilities associated with Agent Orange, as well as
Maine-related claims.

It is unfortunate that the VA underestimated the volume and complexity of new Agent
Orange claims. Even after it added new staff at Togus, it still had to shift existing staff to this
new workload. I discussed this issue with Bill Henshaw, George Mathis, and other DAV leaders
when we met in March. Now, due to the Agent Orange backlog, Maine claims are taking seven,
even eight months, to process.

Togus officials have accelerated Maine veteran claims involving a documented terminal
illness or severe financial hardship in the meantime. I am also encouraged that the 40 additional
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workers brought in for the Agent Orange cases are now permanent staff at Togus. Even after the
Agent Orange cases are resolved by October 1st, these new permanent staff will continue to clear
the backlog of Maine claims.

From scholarships for students, to help for veterans and their families affected by natural
disasters, DAV does so much to strengthen our communities. One particular cause that Maine
DAV has taken on that demonstrates your compassion is that of our homeless veterans. Your
annual Homeless Stand Down is an outstanding effort to reach out to these veterans.

I share your commitment to this cause. In the land of the free, there must always be a
home for the brave.

Last November, on the eve of Veterans Day, I was honored to join in the grand opening
of the Arthur B. Huot Veterans Housing Center in Saco. This remarkable project provides safe,
modern apartments and needed support services for both the men and women who have served
our country. In addition to the support from Volunteers of America, the VA, and other
organizations, that project was made possible by generous donation from businesses and
community members, including the Huot family.

When the men and women of our armed forces return home, we must welcome them all
the way home. Yet, on any given night, nearly 154,000 veterans find themselves homeless, and
twice as many experience homelessness at some point during a year. Today, the number of
homeless Vietnam veterans is greater than the number who gave their lives during that conflict.
Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan already are showing up in the homeless population.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Shinseki has committed to ending veterans’ homelessness


within five years. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I am pleased that
Congress has responded with record funding for veterans’ services. I worked to secure $50
million in the 2011 budget for VA Supported Housing, which provides housing vouchers for
veterans who also participate in long-term clinical and case management services.

In 1920 when the DAV was founded, the purpose was to meet the needs of the veterans
of the First World War, who returned home bearing the physical wounds from poison gas,
machine guns, and powerful artillery. In the decades since, we have developed a greater
understanding of the psychological wounds from combat.

Early this year at an Armed Services Committee hearing, I discussed with Admiral Mike
Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the increase in suicides by veterans, especially
those in the National Guard and Reserve. I was heartened by his awareness of the issue and his
commitment to address it. We’ve made some progress in this area. Working with Congress, the
Pentagon has established mandatory Centers of Excellence on PTSD and traumatic brain injury
to improve treatment of injured soldiers. We have required mandatory mental health screenings
for all returning veterans.

As many of you know, no one has taken these issues more seriously than the Army’s
Vice Chief of Staff, General Peter Chiarelli. I am meeting with him next week to continue to
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discuss how Congress and the military can work together to take care of our returning veterans. I
am also working with Senator McCain to include a provision in the 2012 Defense Authorization
bill to ensure we are providing the support and assistance our returning guardsmen and reservists
need.

This support is essential because these service members face additional stresses, such as
finding a job or finding a health treatment facility, without the inherent support they would have
at a military installation.

My commitment to our veterans is due in large part to the opportunities I’ve had as a
Senator to travel to South Korea, the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq. I have met with the brave
men and women who serve. I have seen in their faces and heard in their voices the legacy of
duty, courage, and compassion they inherited from those, like many here today, who served in
other places in other times. And it is due to the thousands of veterans I have met throughout our
State during my time serving in the Senate.

My commitment to our veterans is also a deeply personal matter. As I was preparing my


remarks for today, I was pleased to hear that Bill Henshaw specifically asked that I spend a few
minutes talking about one particular veteran – my father. I am grateful for that thoughtful
request because my perspective is shared by millions of Americans who are fortunate to have a
veteran in the family.

My father is a World War II veteran. He fought at the Battle of the Bulge, where he was
wounded twice and awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. From him, I learned that the
heroes who wear the uniforms of America’s armed forces are peace-loving men and women who
fight to advance the cause of freedom and justice. Who do their duty with quiet courage, and
who give hope. Our nation is grateful to you, and I am honored to serve you in the Senate.
Thank you.