11.15.19

Gardner Honors Colorado Veterans on Senate Floor

Washington, D.C. – Following the observance of Veterans Day on Monday, U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) took to the floor of the United States Senate this week to recognize and honor veterans in Colorado and across the United States who have served our country in uniform. 

Veterans Remarks 2019

NOTE: Click here or the picture above to view Senator Gardner’s remarks.

“There has never been a fight too dangerous or a task too difficult for the men and women who have served our country. We must approach veterans care with the same commitment, and find creative solutions to ease the transition to civilian life and ensure they receive the best possible care,” said Senator Gardner. “To everyone who has served, thank you for every sacrifice you have made, and know that our nation is grateful. It is because of our veterans’ commitment that we can continue to live in a nation with unlimited opportunities.”

Remarks as delivered:

This week across this country we celebrated Veterans Day. Veterans day in Colorado and across this country means a lot of different things to so many people across our nation. The one thing it’s always stood for is a day of thanks. A day of thanks to share and celebrate the men and women in our families, our communities, who have done so much for our country so that it can continue to be the greatest nation on the face of this earth.

In Colorado, we celebrated with parades, and parties, and charity fundraisers, and races, and marathons, and events all over the Centennial State to recognize the work of our veterans, the sacrifice of our veterans and their families. Admission to all of our state parks was free, so veterans and their families could enjoy the land that they’ve defended.

And in Colorado Springs, where we have a number of veterans and active duty military members, three of the largest school districts, they didn’t take the day off for Veterans Day. Instead they held veteran appreciation events, breakfasts and lunches with local veterans, invited special speakers, wrote letters to men and women who have served, and had other opportunities for students to learn about the sacrifices that our veterans have made for our country. Because we in Colorado, we in this country, we take great pride in our veterans and veteran community.

In Colorado, our six military bases, including the United States Air Force Academy, all play a critical role in defending our nation and keeping the world a safer place. Colorado is home to more than 400,000 veterans who have bravely served our country.

Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to meet more than 100 Colorado heroes, as part of the High Plains Honor Flight, a tradition that has been carried on for a number of years. Every year, this tradition brings Colorado veterans to our nation’s capital, touring the war memorials, and taking the opportunity to meet these veterans, to look them in the eye, to shake their hands, and say thank you.

I could spend all week talking on the floor about Colorado’s veterans and their incredible acts of service, but if you get the chance, I hope that people will visit Pueblo, Colorado. It’s the Home of Heroes – the Home of Heroes Medal of Honor Memorial in Pueblo, Colorado. The memorial pays tribute to the more than 3,400 people that have received our country’s highest award for military valor. Outside of the memorial there’s four statues – one for each of Pueblo’s Medal of Honor recipients

One of these men, Lieutenant Raymond Murphy, was a United States Marine who was serving in Korea in 1953. After a failed raid with heavy casualties, Lt. Murphy organized and led his platoon in a heroic rescue effort to save his fellow Marines. Providing cover and driving the enemy back, he rescued his fellow men under intense enemy fire. He sustained numerous wounds, but refused treatment until everyone else had been treated. Lieutenant Murphy stayed on the battlefield until every Marine was accounted for.

When President Eisenhower presented Murphy the Medal of Honor, he’s quoted as saying, “What is it about the water out there in Pueblo? All you guys turn out to be heroes!” That’s our Pueblo, Colorado. Whatever it is, there must be a lot of it in Colorado’s waters.

U.S. Army Captain Florent Groberg, who was based out of Fort Carson, also received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in Afghanistan. In 2012, his patrol was ambushed by an individual wearing a suicide vest. Captain Groberg rushed the individual and grabbed him, driving him away from his fellow troops and down to the ground. The bomber’s vest exploded, severely wounding Captain Groberg. He miraculously survived the blast, and his heroic actions and selflessness saved many of his patrol members’ lives.

His actions were certainly extraordinary, and they showed the character of the men who serve – that they would do anything to protect those they love.

I’m also reminded of a Coloradan that I’ve had the honor of working with and meeting over the last several years. Two years ago, in fact, I had a Veterans Day experience that I’ll never forget with another veteran who refused to give up on his fellow brothers and sisters in arms.

I was visiting Donald Stratton, who was a Seaman 1st Class on the USS Arizona when the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. Mr. Stratton was one of the last five remaining survivors stationed on the USS Arizona. Since that time two years ago, we’ve lost Lauren Bruner, even fewer today than there were. He told me how a young sailor named Joseph George disregarded the orders to abandon ship in order to save his life and the other sailors.

Joseph George never received a medal for his actions, and Donald Stratton didn’t think that was fair. It didn’t sit well with him. Mr. Stratton and I and his family worked together to finally convince the Navy to honor Joe George to give this hero the recognition he deserves.

Donald Stratton’s story sticks with me because he had already fought one war for his country, and then he had to spend another 16 years fighting government bureaucracy in order to honor the man who saved his life and the lives of others. It’s a reminder that our veterans need our help, and our support, to receive the recognition and the care that they continue to deserve.

All of the stories that I have described, the individuals that I have talked about, are extraordinary, but there are so many other countless acts of heroism. Every single person in our armed service today is extraordinary, who every day have heroic acts of service and sacrifice that may not make the national news or the front page of newspapers, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that every day they sacrifice for our country.

They’ve put their bodies and their minds through vigorous training, bootcamps, and deployments. They’ve given up valuable time with their loved ones, away from home for months at a time, if not longer. The holidays they’ll never go back to, and the important milestones that they’ve missed with their families as they placed their civilian lives on hold to serve our country. And too many people return with wounds of war – both physical, and mental.

All of these sacrifices and their willingness to place their lives on the line for our country they love adds up to a debt we can never repay, never pay back. But I hope this Veterans Day, this celebration this week, serves as a reminder that it is our responsibility to take care of those who have taken care of us.

We owe it to our nation’s veterans to ensure they can receive the best possible care, that they have the tools and support necessary to navigate civilian life. The Senate, the House, Congress, we’ve taken great steps to improve the lives of veterans and the care that they recieve, but we can always do more. And we must do more, we must do more, must do more, and never give up – that we can do better than the status quo.

For veterans living in rural areas like the Western Slope or the Eastern Plains of Colorado, long drive times and a shortage of doctors and nurses at the VA facilities make it difficult to receive the care that we’ve promised.

There has never been a fight too dangerous or a task too difficult for these men and women who have served our country. And that’s the approach that we need to take, we have to be in this fight to make sure that we approach veterans care with the same commitment, and find creative solutions to ease the transition to civilian life to make sure that they have the care that they need, to make sure that we have enough physicians, and nurses, and doctors in these places to provide the best possible care.

Earlier this year I introduced my VA Readiness Initiative, a comprehensive package of improvements and reforms to ensure that we are following through on every one of these promises to veterans. The VA Readiness Initiative focuses on four pillars to support veterans: (1) Expanding access to Services, (2) Encouraging innovation, (3) VA accountability, and (4) Empowering transitioning service members.

It introduces more oversight, more transparency, and accountability at the VA facilities to eliminate fraud and to increase the quality of care. In order to ease the transition to civilian life, it enhances programs that help veterans start small businesses and training for future careers in science, technology, engineering, and math fields. It promotes innovative approaches to suicide prevention – which is a heartbreaking problem in the veteran community.

In Colorado, we’re losing one of our own nearly every seven hours to suicide. In recent years, we’ve lost more veterans to suicide than we’ve lost in combat. Think about that. We’ve lost more veterans to suicide than we’ve lost in combat. In Colorado we lose roughly 200 veterans a year to suicide.

I’m working with my colleague Senator Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin to designate 9-8-8 as a national suicide hotline that veterans and anyone else in crisis can call when they need help. Veterans answered our call when we needed them – and we need to be able to answer their call, when they need us.

When somebody is suffering from a heart attack or a medical emergency, a crisis, we all know to call 9-1-1. But how many people know a number to call if they find themselves in a time of mental health crisis? Is it a 10-digit hotline? Yeah, it is. How many people can know that, and know that now off the top of their head, how many people could tell a friend in need what that hotline is? Let’s simplify it. Let’s make it a three-digit number, like 9-1-1, for health crisis emergencies. Let’s make sure that we have a 9-8-8 phone call for mental health needs.

The current suicide hotline, as I said, is 10 digits long. This is an easy-to-remember hotline, 9-8-8, to connect people in crisis with professional help. If a veteran is in need, and a phone call is made, they will receive specialized care, for the veterans. Press 1 to be directed to the veterans support line, where they could receive mental health support specific to the unique needs of our veterans.

I also hope that every veteran in Colorado will look to our offices, my office in Colorado and my colleague’s office from Colorado, Senator Bennet, and others, if there is anything we can do to help. Often times, too many people don’t know the services that we can help them with.

Thanks to the outpouring of veterans who contact my office each and every year, we were able to help open the VA Medical Center in Aurora, Colorado last year. It was long overdue, but essential to the care and to make sure that we have the finest medical care for Coloradans.

Senator Johnny Isakson from Georgia, somebody who’s going to be stepping down from this chamber at the end of the year. We’re going to miss him greatly. As Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, he was instrumental in making this happen, and will be greatly missed when he leaves. Johnny is a true statesman and champion for our veterans, and we in Colorado are grateful for his work to make sure that the VA hospital in Aurora is the crown jewel of our support system in our state for veterans

Mr. President, November is also Military Family Appreciation Month, and I certainly want to express my gratitude to the military families who share the burden of service. This isn’t just an individual effort, it is indeed a family effort. When one member of the family serves, the entire family serves. This time of year we all know can be a difficult time of the year with the holidays coming up for troops and their families.

So as all of us celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, and other traditions in our families, I hope that each one of our prayers will go to a military family in need – heroes who are placing their dreams on hold to protect the American dream.

And so to everyone who has served this country, thank you for the sacrifice that you have all made, and know that our nation is grateful. It is because of our veterans and the commitment that you bring that we can continue to live in a nation with unlimited opportunities. A nation founded in liberty and rooted in the principles that inspire hope and optimism around the world.

To every veteran, thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything that you have done in service to our beloved country. May God bless you, and God bless this great United States of America, as you continue to serve and as we continue to serve you.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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Cory Gardner is a member of the U.S. Senate serving Colorado. He sits on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, the Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, and is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy.