For many years, America has been accustomed to Veterans Day celebration in honor of older vets men and women who look back 30 years or more to their service. Now, with the ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, our nation has a new group of veterans.
Whether they agree with our efforts in Iraq, I believe most Alaskans recognize that we need to ensure that our military men and women are properly honored and appropriately cared for.
Congress is aware of this responsibility both the House and Senate Appropriations committees approved roughly $66 billion for the VA, about $4.1 billion more than last year. The Veterans Health Administration will receive around $28.3 billion, nearly $1.5 billion above last year's appropriation.
In the last two years, thanks to these increases and other efforts, the amount of veterans waiting over six months for non-emergency services from a VA facility has dropped 98 percent and we are going to keep working that number down.
Individuals have many outlets to show their appreciation for our veterans, both young and older:
Alaska is privileged to have the highest percentage of veteran residents in the U.S. The various veterans service organizations, such as the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, have chapters in Alaska and can offer suggestions for volunteer or donation opportunities. Check your local phone book for their listings.
The USO, whose good work for our active duty troops was popularized by the late Bob Hope and is now being carried on by Wayne Newton and many others, has several programs where they can use assistance from civilians. One of the best, especially for the upcoming holiday season, is the USO Care Package program. These packages are delivered to members of the U.S. Armed Forces from around the world. With a donation of $25, you can sponsor a care package and include a personal message of support and encouragement. These packages include requested items such as prepaid worldwide phone cards, sunscreen, travel-size toiletries, disposable cameras and a message from the donor thanking them for their service and sacrifice. You can contact the USO for donations at USO.org or by calling (800) 876-7469.
The VA also has a Voluntary Service Office, which can direct interested individuals to appropriate volunteer opportunities in the state. They can be reached at (907) 257-5474.
Operation Hero Miles allows frequent fliers to donate their miles toward the purchase of tickets for military personnel on emergency leave or for family members to visit hospitalized troops. Learn more at heromiles.org.
There are also government chartered organizations that provide assistance usually low interest loans and other support to military families in times of need. They are: Army Emergency Relief at (866) 878-6378; the Air Force Aid Society at (800) 769-8951; and the Coast Guard Mutual Assistance at (800) 881-2462.
Don Young represents Alaska in the U.S. House of Representatives.
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