Opinions and Speeches

By Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

Today, our nation faces threats from a multitude of sources, and it is essential that the men and women fighting for our country overseas are supported by our government not only in words, but in getting the resources, equipment and benefits they deserve and need to safely accomplish their mission.

The National Guard has come a long way from the days when I served as a loadmaster on the C-124 “Old Shaky” in the Georgia Air National Guard’s 116th Wing from 1966-1972. Back then, our role was to serve as a strategic reserve. Today, we are relying more on our National Guardsmen and Reservists as an operational reserve, both when disaster strikes at home and when threats arise around the world.

Volunteering for military service comes with many benefits that make a difference to service members and their families. For many years, I have supported our National Guardsmen and Reservists by working to provide them with benefits that are balanced and sustainable today and in the future.

Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the military as well as more than 750,000 veterans. As chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs since 2015 and a member of the committee since 2005, I hear from our service members and veterans every day. I rely on their input to better serve their interests in Washington.

It was with the help and input of so many Guardsmen and Reservists, and others, that we were able to pass the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 into law. This bipartisan piece of legislation eliminated the 15-year limit for usage of post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits and expanded eligibility for those who deployed under 12304(a) and 12304(b) authorities. As thousands of members of our operational reserve have deployed under these circumstances, it was only fair to make these benefits equitable to their active duty counterparts. 

In recent years, Congress has enacted legislation to improve medical readiness, increase retention and ensure health coverage for those who continue to serve. 

Additionally, with more and more of our citizen soldiers seeing the front lines of war, and thankfully returning home, we have new challenges to face.

In addition to physical care, accessibility to quality mental health care is essential. When I became chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in 2015, the first piece of legislation we passed was the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act to improve mental health care and suicide prevention resources for American veterans. This legislation was about improving the exchange of training, best practices, and other resources among the VA and non-profit mental health organizations to enhance collaboration of suicide prevention efforts and provide a new website that offers veterans information on mental healthcare services.

The “Be There” program launched by the VA in 2017 is part of the Veterans Crisis Line outreach program that empowers friends and loved ones to help veterans or service members who may be going through a difficult time. The Veterans Crisis Line is now fully staffed, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days of the year, not only by telephone, but also reachable by text message or online chat.

Through the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, we have worked to make changes at the VA to improve the lives of our veterans and their caregivers and to help make sure the department provides a level of service that is worthy of their sacrifice.

I am proud of my previous service in the Air National Guard and even more proud to continue working today on behalf of all of our nation’s service members. We are working each day to make sure they see the benefits that our government promised to them when they signed up to serve. Our National Guard and Reserve soldiers are on-duty, sacrificing work, family and personal time to serve our nation. They deserve our thanks, and they have earned the respect of a grateful nation.