Honoring Our Troops and Veterans

By Senator Ben Nelson

If you’ve paid attention to the news from Washington over the last year, you might think that everything is so partisan and political that nothing good ever happens in the nation’s capital.

As we gather across Nebraska in this holiday season with our families and friends, I’d like to point out that although the environment has been pretty toxic, we did come together for an important group of Americans: our active duty service men and women, and our veterans.

Hiring Heroes Act

This year, Congress passed the VOW to Hire Heroes Act I cosponsored to help veterans transition back into civilian life.  It provides tax credits of up to $5,600 for employers who hire veterans who have been hunting for a job for more than six months, as well as a $2,400 tax credit for hiring veterans out of work more than a month, but less than six months.

The bill, which won’t add a dime to the deficit, allows service members to begin applying for federal jobs before they officially leave the service, so they can transition back into private and productive lives.

When our veterans come home, we shouldn’t just shake their hand for a job well done, and then send them off into the workplace to look for a job alone.

Defense Bill Seeks to Improve Programs for Active Duty and Guard and Reserves

Congress just passed the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act setting national defense priorities. It seeks to improve active duty, Guard and Reserve service members’ quality of life and that of their families through fair pay, policies and benefits. It will help keep skilled service members in the military and address mental stress for service members and their families.

I cosponsored a provision in the bill that extends military space-available travel privileges for National Guardsmen, Reservists, “gray area” retirees, and their dependents. It also extends space-available travel privileges to eligible surviving spouses and their dependents, and it doesn’t cost a thing extra. This would benefit Guard, Reserve, retirees and their dependents in Nebraska.

Another benefit expands the Hero Miles program. Currently, the program provides free airline tickets to family members of wounded warriors traveling to visit their injured loved ones at military hospitals around the world.

The new provision expands the Hero Miles program to include hotel points or awards for free or reduced-cost accommodations, in addition to air miles. This legislation will allow individuals to donate hotel points to members of the Armed Services and their families who are traveling to receive care through the military health system.

Holiday Thanks for Returning Soldiers and Those Still Deployed

This holiday season it’s heartwarming that many Nebraskans who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last few years are home again, and it’s my hope their lives will benefit from Congress’ actions this year.

Just in the last two months, about 380 Nebraska National Guard men and women have returned home. About 330 active duty Airmen are back from their deployments as well.

As we welcome them home, we’re mindful that there are 163 members of the Nebraska National Guard and 212 active duty Airmen from the 55th Wing at Offutt who remain deployed overseas.

In this holiday season, let’s remember them and be grateful they are working for peace and goodwill for all.

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