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Veterans gave their best, deserve the best

In October 1966, I called my family from Gustavus Adolphus College to let them know I had decided to become a Marine. I remember the call as if it was yesterday: My mother dropped the phone and didn’t say a word. My father, on the other hand, a World War II Navy veteran, had a much more eloquent response, applauding me for becoming “just another sea-going bellhop.”

Thus began my military career, with a proud call to serve.

My dad’s humor is what you’d expect from a Navy veteran who served in the South Pacific. For those who can remember 1966, my mom’s reaction was understandable. We were in the heart of the Vietnam conflict and the nightly news painted a grim story of what it meant to be in the U.S. military.

In 1969, I received my commission as a 2nd lieutenant, completed flight training, and deployed to Vietnam as a CH-46 helicopter pilot. I retired from the U.S. Marine Corps in 2009 at the rank of lieutenant general after 40 years of service to my country. My time as a Marine ignited a joyful love for aviation, an intense passion for our nation’s freedoms, and a deep appreciation for service.

I felt called to serve, once again, when I decided to run for Congress in 2016. This time, the service required a suit and tie, not a camouflage uniform. I ran for Michigan’s 1st Congressional District, which covers northern Michigan, and made it known from the beginning that I wouldn’t accept Washington’s status quo. I didn’t run to win a fancy title or position, and I have no intention of being a career politician. My goals are simple: to make this country a better place for all our kids and grandkids. I continually work to accomplish that goal by highlighting areas in which government is succeeding and shining a bright light on federal government failures.

Nowhere is that mindset more important than in my role on the U.S. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Those with the responsibility of caring for our nation’s veterans must be held to the highest standards. More money doesn’t mean better outcomes, and the political party of the president shouldn’t preempt policy. In my first years in Congress, our committee passed bipartisan legislation like the VA Mission Act, the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, and the Forever GI Bill. Those overdue changes have all been signed into law, and now it’s the Veterans Affairs Committee’s role to provide rigorous oversight during the VA’s implementation of the new policies.

Our veterans gave their best when their government asked, and now it’s time they receive the best in return.

As we celebrate National Military Appreciation Month, let us acknowledge the immense challenges still ahead to fix a system that has left thousands of our brothers and sisters behind. There are veterans in my district who have waited up to a decade for appeals to be resolved, and veterans from Korea and Vietnam who have died before ever having their cases settled. Here in America, the greatest country in the world, we must and will do better.

Appreciating our servicemembers is more than a slogan. Heartfelt appreciation demands action. It’s time each of us step up and do more. As communities, as neighbors, as politicians, as a nation, we can — and must — do better to truly honor the service and sacrifice of those who have served to protect our freedoms:our veterans!

U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, a Republican, represents Michigan’s 1st Congressional District. He sits on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee and the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Bergman served in the Marine Corps for 40 years, retiring in 2009 at the rank of lieutenant general. After being elected in November 2016, Bergman became the highest-ranking combat veteran ever elected to Congress.