Every member of the United States military takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution. It is the foundation of a bond that American servicemembers share with one another – regardless of branch, rank, station, or era. As a Marine, it is a bond I share with my son Stephen, a Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel, and now my grandson Spencer, who is at Marine Corps Recruit Training.

Most years, I spend Veterans’ Day with as many of our Southern Illinois veterans as I can. It is a day I cherish because it gives me an opportunity to thank a neighbor for putting their life on the line in defense of the freedoms we hold dear.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 posed a challenge to our plans, as it has in so many ways this year. State and local health guidelines may limit our opportunities to gather together; but they don’t eliminate the need to express our gratitude for our nation’s heroes. As a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, that is something I strive for each and every day – not just on Veterans’ Day.

I’ve introduced legislation to help combat the veteran suicide crisis. The Access to Suicide Prevention Coordinators Act will require each VA facility to have at least one suicide prevention coordinator on staff to help local veterans. We lose 20 servicemembers and veterans to suicide every day and by improving access to these vitally important health professionals, we will hopefully make a difference.

But we can’t wait to provide care to veterans once they are already struggling. We must be proactive. That’s why I introduced the VA Precision Medicine Act which will help the VA better identify veterans who face higher mental health risks. Modern medicine and scientific research have made it possible to identify patients who are at a higher risk for a variety of health conditions, like depression or PTSD. This legislation would require the VA to implement these practices so that we can get veterans the care they need sooner so that they are less likely to become part of that statistic.

As the top Republican on the Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee, I’m also working to ensure that our veterans receive the benefits and care they have rightly earned. I was proud to help introduce the Veteran Benefits Enhancement and Expansion Act in August. This package includes bipartisan and bicameral proposals to cut red tape for education, life insurance, and disability benefits and exams for veterans.

This is progress. But we have plenty of work left to do. We need to continue streamlining efforts to provide our veterans their benefits; provide a yearly cost-of-living adjustment to them and their families; ensure we are hiring more highly-qualified staff at VA medical centers; and modernizing outdated systems so that they work for the veterans who use them. We have nearly 55,000 veterans in Southern Illinois and over 17 million nationwide. While I will never know all their names or hear all their stories, they are my brothers and sisters. They’ve gone to battle for our nation and our freedoms, and it is our duty to fight for them now that they are home.