Service Members and Veterans

Tom Harkin is a Navy veteran and a member of American Legion Post 562 in Cumming, Iowa. During his time in uniform, he learned about duty, discipline, sacrifice and honor. That is why Senator Harkin has fought and will continue to fight for legislation to ensure that veterans get the health care, financial support and recognition they have earned, and that active duty military and their families receive adequate support for the sacrifices they have made to serve.

Supporting Veterans

As a past member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds veterans programs, Senator Harkin worked to increase funding for our Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals. Although he no longer serves on that subcommittee, Senator Harkin is no less committed to ensuring Iowa veterans are provided high quality health care. Most recently, he strongly supported efforts to provide $1.8 billion in funding for the VA in the FY 2007 Emergency Supplemental spending bill. This funding was on top of the additional $3.5 billion increase for VA health care spending that the Democratic Congress provided in the FY 2007 Continuing Appropriations bill. These funds are critically needed to meet the health care needs of veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senator Harkin is also fighting to meet the growing mental health needs of our veterans. He introduced S. 479, the “Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Act,” named in honor of a young Iowan who tragically took his own life after returning from serving in Iraq. The bill would require the VA to create a comprehensive program to address the growing problem of suicide among veterans. Senator Harkin is also the lead cosponsor of S. 1205, the “Heroes Helping Heroes Act,”which would provide veterans service organizations with resources to create peer support programs, so that veterans can help soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan as they return to civilian life.

Senator Harkin has been a strong supporter of the Assured Funding for Veterans Health Care Act, a bill authored by Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) to make annual funding for veterans mandatory, not subject to discretionary spending decisions that can differ from year to year as is the case currently.

Senator Harkin is an original cosponsor of the Military Retiree Survivor Benefit Equity Act, a bill authored by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), which would restore full survivor benefits to military widows and widowers by ending the dollar-for-dollar deduction of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation from their survivor benefit pay. Dependency and Indemnity Compensation is paid by the VA when the service member’s death is due to service-caused conditions. The measure was adopted as part of the annual defense authorization bill in the Senate in 2005 but was stripped from that bill by the Republican majority when the House and the Senate met to conference the bill in late December 2005. This legislation would have helped an estimated 55,000 widows, widowers and orphans.

Senator Harkin looks forward to continuing to work with Iowans in the fight for better treatment of our fellow veterans. Tom knows that there is always more that needs to be done to meet our nation’s obligation to provide the quality health care and fair benefits that our veterans have earned.

Service Members and their Families

Senator Harkin believes that we have an obligation to do everything we can to support those who serve and their family members. This is particularly important now, given the strain that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed on our military and military families.

After the 133rd Battalion of Iowa National Guard had their tour of duty in Iraq involuntarily extended, Senator Harkin received hundreds of letters from the family members of these soldiers who spoke of the difficulties and challenges families face during extended deployments. In response, he introduced S. 902, the “Coming Together for National Guard and Reserve Families Act of 2007.” This bill would provide Guard and Reserve families with family assistance programs and mental health and counseling services, and would help teachers and child care professionals be alert for signs that children may be struggling while their parent is away.

Senator Harkin also believes that we must address the harm that extended overseas deployments are having on our troops and their families. He is a cosponsor of a measure that would ensure service members have adequate time at home between tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Specifically, under this measure, a member of the Armed Forces who served in Iraq or Afghanistan would be entitled to the same amount of time at home before being sent back to combat. Guard or Reserve members who are deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan must have three years at home before being sent back.

Military Medals

Harkin has been a leader in the Senate in calling on the Department of Defense to improve the process for issuing military medals so that veterans receive the medals that they earned for their service. In 1999, Harkin added an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill which directed the Secretary of Defense to eliminate the backlog in decoration requests. Since then, delays in receiving medals have been greatly reduced and hundreds of Iowa veterans have benefited from Senator Harkin’s intervention on this issue.