America lost a true patriot this week with the passing of my predecessor and respected friend, former Congressman Ike Skelton. I have appreciated our conversations over the past two and a half years and the commitment we shared to see Missouri’s 4th District prosper. I am thankful for Ike’s tireless efforts on behalf of our men and women in uniform and know our country is safer as a result of his unwavering leadership.
The day following Ike’s passing, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon best summed up how Ike, who had previously chaired the committee, was viewed by military men and women. Buck said: “It was always difficult to have a conversation with Ike in public because our troops were always stopping him to thank him, to have their picture taken with him or to let him know how his service had made theirs better. Ike was always humble when he met them. There is no tribute we can offer that can ever match the gratitude of those men and women.”
My thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time. I am thankful for the opportunity to have known him and know the country is safer as a result of his efforts.
On a related note, the House approved several pieces of legislation this week that will benefit veterans.
H.R. 2189 establishes a commission or task force to evaluate the backlog of disability claims of the Department of Veterans Affairs. This is a problem I have been focusing on since my time began in the House. Many veterans in Missouri’s 4th District have been waiting far too long for determination on their claims. This task force will conduct a comprehensive evaluation of those claims at the VA and give priority in the claims process to veterans who are older than 70, are terminally ill, have a life-threatening illness, are homeless, were awarded the Medal of Honor, or who are former prisoners of war. I am hopeful this will help address this long-standing issue.
The House also approved H.R. 2011 – the Veterans’ Advisory Committee on Education Improvement Act, reauthorizing the Veterans’ Advisory Committee on Education through December of 2015, and modifying the composition of the Committee to include veterans of recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This committee is involved with education and training programs for veterans. Committee members advise the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on existing education benefit programs and services, while recommending needed new education benefit programs and services.
We passed H.R. 1742 – the Vulnerable Veterans Housing Reform Act – to make sure severely disabled veterans are not penalized for receiving VA benefits when applying for in-home aid, Section 8 or public housing rental assistance.
The final veterans’ bill we passed this week was H.R. 2481 – the Veterans Economic Opportunity Act of 2013. It establishes the Veterans Economic Opportunity Administration to manage the GI Bill, Home Loan Guarantee and Rehabilitations and Employment programs.
We owe our veterans and their families so much. I urge the Senate to quickly approve these common sense ideas to improve the lives of our veterans and to send these bills to President Obama.
Lastly, I had the honor this week of meeting a Korean War veteran who was one of three brothers to have proudly served our country. 84-year-old Gene Boyd served in Korea after his two brothers, 85-year-old Charles Boyd and 83-year-old Raymond Boyd, served during World War II. I met with Gene, his wife Pat, and their three daughters in St. Robert, near Fort Leonard Wood. Gene’s family members are so proud of him and were eager to share so many wonderful memories.
The three brothers were orphaned at an early age, went their separate ways, and happily were able to reconnect in their later years. Gene and Raymond live in Richland while their brother, Charles, now lives in the State of Washington. All three are headed to Washington, D.C. next week to visit the World War II Memorial, and had requested that I meet with them there. I will not be in Washington during their visit, but I wanted to meet with them to thank them on behalf of a grateful nation. I was so honored to have met with Gene and, while his brothers were unable to attend our meeting, I thank all three of these heroes for their service to our country.
Have a great week.