With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley

Q: Why is Memorial Day a federal holiday?
A:  This holiday observes the ultimate sacrifice of more than 1 million Americans who served in the Armed Forces and lost their lives in the line of duty. It is a day of reverence and remembrance for our fallen heroes, the sons and daughters whose call to duty protected our shores, battled regimes of tyranny and terrorism and defended freedom and liberty around the world. Americans owe generations of men and women in uniform an immeasurable debt of gratitude for their legacy of service, sacrifice and patriotism. Thanks to their valor and love of country, we live in a free society and enjoy the blessings of peace and prosperity handed down from one generation to the next. That is why it’s important for generations of Americans to pass along family and community traditions that honor our fallen heroes. From graveside beautification and devotions to parades, flag ceremonies and flower and musical tributes, Americans come together on Memorial Day to celebrate our heritage and salute the noble cause and lasting legacy of our service heroes. The very first national celebration took place at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1868. Today a time-honored tradition continues with a ceremonial laying of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The nation’s capital also welcomes the Rolling Thunder motorcycle brigade to honor the memories of POW/MIA and their families. In Iowa, many families will celebrate the three-day weekend with backyard barbecues, neighborhood potlucks and trips to the swimming pool or lake. I encourage all Iowans to take a moment of gratitude at 3 p.m. local time on this Memorial Day. It is a day of solemn reflection for those who have died serving their country in uniform. Let us honor their memories by not taking our freedom for granted.  We can do that by reaffirming our rights and responsibilities of citizenship, whether that be learning more about our Constitution and system of government, telling a child about our national history, and being an active citizen in your local school, church, social welfare organization, or other civic group.

Q:  What’s another way for the federal government to honor the legacy of our fallen heroes?
Upholding the sacred promises made to our men and women who have been injured in service to their country is a nonnegotiable obligation. The most recent statistics from the Department of Veterans Affairs estimate about 22 million veterans are living in the United States compared to 1.4 million people who currently serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. As a federal policymaker with a strong track record of robust oversight, I work to hold the VA accountable to our veterans.  Nearly two years ago, the flawed system at the VA that enabled falsified records was exposed. There were reports of veterans dying while waiting for care. Congress took immediate action and I supported bipartisan reforms to root out wrongdoing, protect whistleblowers and enable vets to seek care outside the VA under certain circumstances. The VA also received a $15 billion funding boost to clean up its act and restore credibility with veterans and the American public. Unfortunately, I’m sorry to say the culture at the VA has failed to turn around. In fact, just one week before Memorial Day, the head of the VA compared wait times for veterans to wait times at Disneyland. Such insensitive comments reflect poor judgment and dishonor the memory of those who served alongside our surviving veterans. Despite the VA’s budget nearly tripling from 2000 to 2012, chronic mismanagement riddles the sprawling bureaucracy.  I hear regularly from Iowa veterans who have gotten the run-around trying to set up appointments with the new choice program because the VA ignored the clear text of the law Congress passed and outsourced the appointment process.  The VA admitted to me that its implementation has been flawed. By early next year, the VA should have in place a new contract for a provider network and have brought the appointment process back into the VA. I will continue working to make this a more effective resource for vets and to keep up the pressure to fix the dysfunction at the VA.  Between its poor track record of cutting off benefits prematurely to living veterans and creating “secret” waiting lists for sick veterans, it’s clear that the VA isn’t measuring up to its commitments. It certainly doesn’t help when the head of the VA compares its wait times to Disneyland.  Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines didn’t put their lives on the line in Fantasyland when they enlisted. It’s the real world.

I’ll continue working to make sure public policies measure up to the commitments we make to our men and women in the Armed Forces. That includes supporting them when they are on active duty, such as my bipartisan reforms to improve justice for victims of military sexual assault, as well as supporting them when they finish their military service. That includes my work to help prevent suicide among veterans; find employment in civilian life; support family caregivers who commit to serving wounded veterans; and, protect whistleblowers who tell the truth and expose misdeeds that harm veterans and the taxpaying public. Ongoing mismanagement and ineffective stewardship of tax dollars are putting veterans’ health at risk. The buck stops at the top.  I’ll continue putting pressure on the commander-in-chief and the VA Secretary to make good on the promises made to our men and women called to serve the United States of America in the Armed Forces.