When I was growing up, Memorial Day was a really important holiday in our family. All three of my older brothers served in the military, and they were our beloved reminders of millions of brave men and women who gave their lives for our country. When you grow up with family members who have served, and you’re lucky enough to see everyone come home safely, Memorial Day has special meaning. You understand what others have lost – and you honor even more the sacrifice and the service of those who fight for our country and all those who love them.
My oldest brother, Don Reed, completed 288 combat missions in Vietnam. John was posted to North Africa. The youngest, David, stayed stateside, where he trained as an emergency medic. We were proud of them – proud, and always aware of what military commitment meant. I remember how much I missed my brothers when they were away and how excited I was when they came back. I can’t imagine the heartache that military families feel when their loved ones don’t come home.
We honor the sacrifices of America’s men and women in uniform by remembering their bravery, by doing right by the families they left behind, and by doing our best for their fellow service members when they arrive home. This means making sure that veterans have the best possible health care and ensuring that all those who need mental health care can get it. It also means making sure that veterans have affordable and safe housing.
One goal I’m focused on right now in the Senate is helping veterans transition to civilian life by ensuring they can access quality education and find good jobs. Education and training play a key role in easing the transition from military to civilian life. After World War II, we educated the Greatest Generation on the GI Bill. Today, the Post-9/11 GI Bill represents a new commitment to today’s service members. And the Service members Civil Relief Act is a critical federal law that protects active-duty members of the military from being cheated by financial institutions, including student loan companies. But too often, these federal supports and protections don’t deliver on the promises we’ve made to service members and veterans.
For example, student loan giant Navient systematically overcharged service members on their student loans for years, violating the Service members Civil Relief Act. After the Education Department initially failed to hold Navient accountable, I pressed the agency to conduct a full review of how Navient and all other contractors were following the law. I eventually helped secure refunds for more than 80,000 military borrowers – an important step toward providing our men and women in uniform the relief they have earned. But we must remain vigilant to ensure veterans and service members continue to get the consumer protection benefits Congress intended for them to have.
I’ve been lucky enough to meet with student veterans getting a great education at colleges and universities across Massachusetts. But predatory for-profit colleges also continue to target veterans, offering useless degrees while they suck down vets’ hard-earned GI Bill dollars and load them up with unnecessary debt.
Time after time, the predatory for-profit colleges get there first, so young vets show up to a good community college already tens of thousands of dollars in debt and without credits that will transfer. This is wrong.
When I set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, I made protection of military personnel a top priority, setting up the Office of Service member Affairs. The Education and Veterans Affairs departments also need to use all the tools at their disposal to crack down on shady colleges that target veterans.
Improving access to high-quality education and training is only one piece of ensuring that veterans can get good civilian jobs. We also must cut down on unnecessary red tape holding back our veterans. America has the best military in the world, and the source of our strength lies in the men and women who wear the uniform. Service members develop skills that have tremendous value for our country, both on and off the battlefield.
Yet many veterans who have been trained to do tough jobs in the military encounter costly and time-consuming licensing requirements when they apply for the same kinds of jobs in civilian life. Here’s the way I see it: If someone has the training and experience to drive a truck in the Army under some of the most challenging conditions imaginable, that person has the skills needed to operate a commercial truck on our highways. States and the federal government should work together to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy to make transitions like this and others easier and cheaper. Employers and veterans both will benefit from streamlined licensing and credentialing processes.
I learned about the values of military service from my three brothers, and as senator from Massachusetts, I’m deeply proud of the men and women in uniform who sacrifice for our commonwealth and for our nation every day. On this Memorial Day, let’s honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country by strengthening and upholding our promises to America’s veterans and their families.
Read the Op-Ed on The Boston Globe website here.
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