Tammy Duckworth, Illinois Wednesday, August 27, 2008 at 08:00 PM Four years ago, I was co-piloting a Blackhawk helicopter north of Baghdad when a rocket-propelled grenade struck the cockpit. My buddies carried my body out not knowing if I was dead or alive. They knew the soldier’s creed: never leave a fallen comrade behind. They lived up to it. They risked their own lives to save mine. Because of them, I am here today, an Iraq war veteran, a female helicopter pilot and a wounded warrior—living in a country where people with disabilities have rights. Because of them, I am here today, an Asian American, a Daughter of the American Revolution as well as a daughter of an immigrant. Acts of courage like theirs happen everywhere American troops serve. They are happening right now. I know that—so does my family. My father served in Vietnam, my brother served in the Coast Guard, my husband just returned from Operation Iraqi Freedom. We served because we believe in this great nation and the opportunities it has given us. And because our service members support us, we must always keep the faith with them. The administration of George Bush—supported by John McCain every step of the way— has let our warriors down. Our troops are courageous, strong and fierce. This administration has re-deployed them until they are overstretched, stressed and strained. Our warriors should fight in Afghanistan where al-Qaida and the Taliban are on the offensive. But instead of destroying the enemies who attacked us on 9/11, we have diverted our military might to Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11. When our warriors come home they deserve the best VA medical care, but too often they get bureaucracy, not benefits. They find inadequate access, inferior facilities and infuriating paperwork. And now, John McCain wants to ration care. Under his plan, the VA will serve combat injuries, but everyone else gets an insurance card. Barack Obama and the Democrats have a different idea. Barack Obama will live up to their tradition of honor and sacrifice. Barack Obama will use war not as a first choice, but a last resort. Barack Obama understands that for a commander-in-chief to support the military, he needs more than a “Mission Accomplished” banner, more than wearing a borrowed flight suit, and definitely more than four more years of the same failed foreign policy. President Obama will restore the might of the military, invest in our troops and only send our sons and daughters to war if they have a clearly defined mission and the tools they need to succeed. I speak from more than a gut feeling on this. I know Barack Obama. I met him when he visited me and other wounded troops at Walter Reed. He came without reporters. He wasn’t looking for credit. He just cared about how we were doing. He knew that wherever you stand on the war, you must love the warrior, and he does. I testified before his committee; I listened to him talk, but then I watched what he did and how he voted. As a Senator, Barack Obama worked to improve the lives of all our veterans. He fought to fix our rundown hospitals. He fought to cut through the red tape. Unlike John McCain, Barack Obama fought for a new GI bill—and won—so that every veteran has the same opportunity to pursue their American dream just like his grandfather had after World War II. So I know what he’ll do as president. An America with President Obama will have a 21st century VA. He’ll improve access to health care. He’ll speed up disability claims. He’ll increase services for nationwide posttraumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries as we have already done in Illinois under Governor Blagojevich’s leadership. And Barack Obama will have a simple principle for homeless veterans: zero tolerance, because we are all dishonored when those who’ve worn the uniform sleep on our streets. But here’s what he won’t do: President Obama will reject John McCain’s plan to privatize the VA system. We won’t force veterans to search for medical care with nothing but a plastic card and the promise of payment. We won’t have means testing for access to the VA. Why? Because Barack Obama knows this: no one asked us where we lived or how much money we had when we enlisted, and no one should ask us that after we’ve bled for our country. Fellow Democrats, fellow Americans: I believe in this nation that I love more than my own life. Today we have an opportunity to honor our military men and women by living up to that soldier’s creed. Today we have an opportunity to give our veterans the benefits they rightfully earned. Today we have the opportunity to change our relations with the world. I believe that America will elect the leader who has always fought to keep our nation’s promise to our veterans. I believe America will elect the leader who can best keep this nation strong. Barack Obama is right for our military. Barack Obama is right for our veterans. Barack Obama is right for our country. And that’s why Barack Obama will be our next commander-in-chief. God bless you, and always, God bless America.
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