I'm proud many of our nation's veterans call the 1st District of Kentucky home. Serving as these patriots' representative in Congress is one of the great privileges of this office. Ensuring we are adequately responding to the needs of our veterans is of the utmost importance, and I'm glad to see the great work that has been accomplished in recent years to better serve our vets, hear their stories and recognize their incredible service.
President Trump's Department of Veterans Affairs has been following through on its promise to improve the VA, the epicenter of administering veterans' services. The administration's promised upgrades to the VA were enacted in multiple pieces of legislation I supported throughout the 115th Congress -- the most comprehensive of which was the VA MISSION Act. This measure consolidated the VA's community care programs into one comprehensive entity and provided additional funding for the rapidly financially-deteriorating VA Choice Program. It also made major revisions to the functionality of the VA to provide accessible, timely care for our heroes. No veteran should worry about being able to access and receive the services they earned during their time protecting our freedoms.
While we can never fully repay our veterans for the sacrifices they have made for our country, I am steadfastly committed to ensuring veterans and their families have the protections and benefits due to them. This Congress I've co-sponsored several bills that aim to better serve our vets, including the Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act (H.R. 553), which restores the annuity to an eligible spouse who previously elected to transfer payment to a dependent child. I was pleased to see H.R. 553 included as an amendment to the NDAA, which passed the House earlier this year. Additionally, I co-sponsored a resolution (H.R. 2201) that would allow veterans who served in Thailand during the Vietnam War the opportunity to prove exposure to herbicide agents, including Agent Orange, and receive VA benefits for service-related health issues.
Hearing from veterans about their needs and creating change is an integral part of serving our nation's heroes. But hearing their stories is equally important. This summer, one of my interns, Colt McGrew, spent time conducting in-depth interviews with two veterans from our district for the Library of Congress' Veterans History project.
Colt spoke with Mr. Carroll Walker of Livingston, about his experience serving in the Vietnam War. Mr. Walker was 23 when he joined the military. Having grown up on a farm, he was no stranger to hard work, but shared his insight about the trials and tribulations of going from the farm to military life as a young adult. Walker became a Specialist (SPC) in the Army, serving in Vietnam in 1968.
"I got there Christmas Day of '67," he said. Walker shared stories about overcoming difficult obstacles in Vietnam and the familial and personal sacrifices he made to serve our nation. He also shared his memories of the deep comraderie he developed with fellow military servicemen along the way -- bonds that can never be broken.
For this project, Colt also spoke with Mr. Stephen Eackle, who was raised in Peoria, Illinois, but now resides in the 1st District.
He earned the rank of Command Chief Master Sergeant (CCM) in the Air Force, serving in both the Persian Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Mr. Eackle trained as an Air Force military policeman, boasting a decades-long career in this field. He spoke about how his military background put him on a path of his success for his future career, saying "I owe far more to the 182nd and the Air Force than I could ever repay. … It basically gave me my start in law enforcement." He shared how accountability and responsibility have been the two main driving forces throughout his life, reflecting, "The military gave me the majority of that accountability and responsibility." Common themes of great sacrifice yielding great rewards were heard throughout Colt's interviews with Mr. Walker and Mr. Eackle. I'm grateful for these two military veterans sharing a glimpse into the sacrifices and hard work endured throughout their service. They exemplify true courage and patriotism.
Our great country is recognized for the value we put on our unique and inalienable freedoms. Our active and retired military service members are the ones who've molded our nation for the better, protecting those freedoms at home and abroad.
This Veterans Day, I am immensely grateful as I reflect on all that our veterans have accomplished through not only their military service, but also their implicit contributions to the fabric and character of our communities. I give great thanks to all our veterans and their families on this day.
Rep. James Comer can be reached at his Washington, D.C. office at (202) 225-3115, or his Paducah Office at (270) 408-1865.