Q:  When did Veterans Day become a public holiday in the United States?

A:  Veterans Day in the United States effectively began 99 years ago, when the U.S. designated Nov. 11, 1918, as Armistice Day to commemorate the end of World War I at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Congress formalized the holiday with legislation adopted in 1938 to celebrate world peace and to honor World War I veterans. Following World War II and the Korean War, Congress updated the legislation to honor all military veterans of all wars every year on Nov. 11.  During this season of Thanksgiving, Americans typically reflect on the blessings of family, friends, good health and good fortune so many of us are grateful to enjoy throughout the year. This month, let us also give thanks for the service, sacrifice and selfless heroism of America’s men and women in uniform. These patriots have answered the call to serve our country, ready to defend freedom and liberty on the front lines and to secure peace and prosperity for generations yet to come.  It is our duty as a nation to reflect upon the bonds of service that unite members of our all-volunteer Armed Forces and to uphold the sacred promises for each military veteran, including National Guard and Reserve members, that they “shall not be forsaken nor forgotten.” Celebrating Veterans Day is an opportunity to take pride in patriotism and salute our heroes in uniform who honorably serve our nation and put their lives on the line to defend and secure the principles of freedom, liberty and justice for which it stands.

Q:  What policies are you advancing to support veterans?

A: First, let’s start with the patient backlog scandal that has shaken public confidence in the health care system operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The unacceptable practice of gaming the system to make it appear wait times are meeting standards of care set by the VA tragically resulted in preventable deaths and delivered a black eye to the entire VA health care system. Congress enacted a series of bipartisan reforms, including a $16 billion spending boost, to help ensure veterans have access to full-service, timely care and to hold the bureaucracy accountable for wrongdoing. Using my legislative and oversight responsibilities, I keep my thumb on the VA to help ensure that veterans receive the spectrum of services they were promised, including expanded services for Blue Water Navy Vietnam vets exposed to Agent Orange, family caregivers, mental health and traumatic brain injury care for invisible wounds sustained in combat. In April, President Trump signed an update to the Veterans Choice program that improves options for access to medical care closer to home. Next, Congress sent the Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act to the President’s desk in June. This new law will crack down on bad apples at the VA who violate the public trust to provide timely medical care to veterans. It will make it easier to fire wrongdoers and prohibit bonuses and relocation expenses for those found guilty of abuse. I have long supported the work of whistleblowers who come forward to report wrongdoing. This new law will help strengthen our system of checks and balances; it sends a signal to the federal bureaucracy that Congress encourages all federal workers to keep their eyes and ears open on the job. Whistleblowers can help foster a culture of transparency to help ensure the government works for the American people. In fact, a whistleblower helped expose the truth when my Senate office and the VA didn’t see eye to eye on data involving wait time for Iowa veterans. That’s why I will continue to advocate for those who see something to say something. Americans wake up and go about our affairs every day of the week, 365 days a year. We are blessed with individual freedoms and a way of life like no other place on Earth. We owe a debt of gratitude for those who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces to protect and defend America’s security and sovereignty.

Q: What about veterans struggling to transition to private life after their military service?

A: As federal lawmaker, I work to identify and solve problems facing veterans transitioning to their local communities. America’s men and women in uniform gave it their all for all of us throughout their military service. Veterans have even more to give after their military service.  That’s why I support efforts to strengthen employment opportunities, such as hiring vets within the federal bureaucracy, and encouraging veteran entrepreneurship. According to the Small Business Administration, the U.S. has 2.5 million veteran-owned businesses, generating $1.4 trillion in sales to local economies throughout the year. Empowering veterans to make a successful transition from the Armed Services to the private sector also must take into account those who have sustained mental health, sexual assault and physical injuries during their military service. Brain-related injuries and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) challenge thousands of veterans who struggle to make that transition to home, work and community. That’s why I continue to help raise public awareness and enact measures for suicide prevention and improve services and resources for mental health. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs operates a free, confidential, 24/7 crisis line for service members, veterans and their loved ones. The toll-free, confidential hotline connects callers with qualified responders. Call (800)273-8255. Send a text to 838255. Or chat anonymously online by visiting https://www.veteranscrisisline.net.