On Memorial Day, we are reminded of the brave sacrifice our troops have made for America. We remember those who have died defending our great nation, leaving behind mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, husbands and wives. As we pause on Memorial Day to honor these soldiers and the families left behind, we also salute the contributions to our freedom made day in and day out by our personnel at MacDill Air Force Base, including Special Operations Command, Central Command and the 6th Air Mobility Wing. • A significant way to honor the contributions of our neighbors in the military and their families is to improve their lives and provide opportunities for them during their service and after their discharge. I am proud to have been able to represent my community in Congress as we worked to reinforce our commitment to our military personnel and their families. During the past three years, Congress has enacted the following:
Military Pay Raise. Service members have seen solid pay raises — 3.5 percent in 2008, 3.9 percent in 2009 and 3.4 percent in 2010.
New GI Bill. Democrats restored the promise of a full, four-year college education for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and their families.
Jobs for Veterans. The Recovery Act provided businesses with a $2,400 tax credit to encourage the hiring of unemployed veterans.
Disabled Veterans. The Recovery Act also provided disabled veterans with a $250 payment to help make ends meet during the severe economic recession.
Historic Veterans Budget. The increases in FY 2007-2010 were hailed as "cause for celebration" by the American Legion because Democrats led a bipartisan effort to adopt the largest funding increase for veterans' health care and other services in the history of the VA.
Fair Pay for Reservists. Small businesses received a tax credit for continuing to compensate Guard and Reserves when they are called up to serve so that active duty does not trigger a pay cut or job loss.
Vets Corps. A first of its kind, Veterans Corps was created to provide services to veterans and military families ranging from housing, rehabilitation, aid during deployment and with finding a job upon their return.
James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital Improvements. Tampa is home to the nation's busiest VA Health Center and one of the few polytrauma centers for the most critically injured service members. In 2009-2010, Haley received about $22 million to renovate existing ward space into private rooms suitable for polytrauma patients — patients who suffered severe injuries serving our nation in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, Haley is in line for more than $3 million to construct a much-needed new parking lot. The 500-space parking lot adjacent to the VA will include security, lighting and a gated area for patients and their families who know all too well about the cramped parking at Haley.
Our community values the service of the brave men and women who gave their all and those who continue to serve at MacDill Air Force Base and in the National Guard and Reserves. We salute our men and women in uniform for their courage and bravery, and the sacrifices their families make while their loved ones are away. I pledge to continue to represent our community's commitment to our service members and their families. On this Memorial Day, and all year long, we pray for the safe return of the brave soldiers who are deployed, and those who gave their lives for our great country.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor is a Tampa Democrat.