As Americans celebrate Memorial Day with barbecues or other festivities, we owe it to ourselves to also remember the reason for this national holiday: to honor our fallen heroes -- all those who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our nation and preserve our freedom.
Americans should also remember that the families of those we lost and those who fought and lived -- many of whom suffer debilitating, lifelong injuries as a result -- depend on our government fulfilling its social compact with our grateful nation by helping all those who serve to recover and lead productive, fulfilling lives.
Unfortunately, in recent years, that social compact has been frayed, as veterans and the survivors of the fallen have found themselves held hostage to partisan gridlock in Washington.
Over the past quarter-century, veterans' appropriations bills have been passed on time on only three occasions. For the other 22 years, the Department of Veterans Affairs has had to wait days, weeks and often months before knowing the amount of its funding. And it keeps getting worse. Over the past four years, veterans appropriations have, on average, been delayed for 116 days.
This has harsh, real-world implications for the lives of veterans and family members. The processing of disability, pension and survivor benefits has been delayed, leading to the unacceptable backlog in claims.
Needed improvements in information technology, medical and prosthetic research and facilities construction and maintenance have been postponed or canceled entirely. Even cemetery administration has been undermined.
This toxic cycle of gridlock, delay and hardship reached its nadir last fall during the government shutdown. Work stopped on more than 250,000 disability claims awaiting appeals, research projects were threatened and even burials at national cemeteries were scaled back.
On Memorial Day 2014, we should pledge never to let this happen again.
Fortunately, we can turn our heartfelt beliefs into concrete action by urging Congress to pass the Putting Veterans Funding First Act. Sponsored by Reps. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, and Mike Michaud, D-Maine, and Sens. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, and John Boozman, R-Arkansas, this bipartisan bill provides for advance appropriations for all VA functions, enabling Congress to pass VA appropriations bills 12 months before the advent of each fiscal year.
This is no radical plan. It merely expands the advance appropriations process that has been in place for VA health care since 2009.
That's why even the government shutdown did not prevent veterans from receiving the medical attention they need. There is simply no good reason to exclude any VA function from advance appropriations.
The Putting Veterans Funding First Act has passed the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committees with overwhelming support. But the leadership of each chamber has yet to allow the bill to reach the floor for a vote.
If there was ever a time to break this logjam and let this popular, urgently needed legislation move forward, surely it is this Memorial Day.
We urge those who share our conviction to call California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Rep. George Miller at 202-224-3121. Tell them to demand a floor vote.
For veterans and survivors, the time for promises and words of gratitude has long past. It's time for action.
If we are to restore America's commitment to those who sacrificed for our country, Congress must pass the Putting Veterans Funding First Act.
LeRoy Acosta is national service officer at the Disabled American Veterans' Oakland office. He served honorably in the Marine Corps from 1979 to 1992.