As one of just four women veterans in the House of Representatives, I take special pride in my work with the veteran community. Since the 5th grade, I knew I wanted to join the Navy. After I graduated from the Naval Academy, I served as a helicopter pilot for almost 10 years. In Congress, I helped found and serve as Vice Chair of the Service Women and Women Veterans Congressional Caucus and am a member of the For Country Caucus, which is a bipartisan group of veterans that works together not only on veterans issues, but across the spectrum of national security issues.
I served with wonderful men and women in the Navy who made many sacrifices to keep our country safe. Veterans Day is an opportunity to honor them and all of those who served our country. To me, this means reflecting on what we as a country are doing to respect and honor the commitment we have made to our nation’s heroes.
As a Member of Congress and veteran myself, I feel a special responsibility to constantly reassess whether we are meeting the promises we have made to our veterans. We must regularly examine the services and resources we provide them – benefits they have earned – to ensure we are meeting our obligation as a nation to the people who put their lives on the line to protect us. We must also make sure our foreign policy decisions take into consideration the women and men who put on the uniform.
This work has taken on an even greater importance amidst the global pandemic and associated recession. So many veterans suffer from mental health challenges stemming from their experiences in combat. And wait times for appointments at VA medical facilities continue to prevent veterans from accessing treatment and testing when they need it.
We must make sure all veterans are getting the help they need during this difficult time.
I have been especially concerned with making sure our veterans have access to the health care they need during this crisis, whether that is COVID testing, treatment for mental health services, or oversight of the VA’s long-term care system. We must make sure all veterans are getting the help they need during this difficult time.
In Washington, I have pushed hard for increased funding for VA telehealth capability, worked closely with my colleagues to ensure additional medical resources for long-term care facilities, and fought to hold leadership accountable for failures in the VA long-term care system. Earlier in this Congress, we passed five bills that address the veteran suicide crisis.
Looking forward, we must do better to ensure that our nation’s bravest have the resources they need to secure a healthy and positive life. We need to do more to help homeless veterans find secure housing and connect to job opportunities. Homelessness among women veterans with children is often particularly challenging due to the lack of facilities that offer accommodations for families.
For too long, women veterans and service members have been overlooked. For example, our Servicewomen’s Caucus pushed TRICARE to cover digital mammograms, which are the standard of care, but were mostly unavailable prior to 2019. But many critical proposals I support have passed the House but have yet to become law. We need to do more to help service women who have experienced military sexual trauma, increase the number of gender-specific providers at the VA, enhance privacy for women veterans within VA facilities, and improve the quality of care for infant children of women veterans.
As a Member of Congress, I will continue to advocate for the relationships that kept me safe when I served.
In Congress, honoring veterans takes on a broader meaning. I know first-hand the real consequences of military action and the need for strong alliances. These alliances reflect our shared values of democracy, human rights, and mutual defense, and they are a result of and vital to U.S. global leadership. As a Member of Congress, I will continue to advocate for the relationships that kept me safe when I served. The thousands of Americans who gave their lives in defense of our nation deserve that promise from all of our leaders.
Finally, serving our veterans is about showing up, like they showed up for us. During my first term here in Congress and especially during this pandemic, I have worked hard to make sure I am present in the veteran community and to give my staff the support they need to conduct robust outreach and constituent services assistance. Whether tracking down VA compensation or presenting medals to a soldier who never received theirs, I am incredibly proud of our work to help veterans — it is certainly some of the most important we do.
I am proud to be a veteran, and I am proud to be a voice for veterans in the U.S. House of Representatives. Veterans Day is a reminder that keeping our promises to our nation’s heroes is an issue all Americans can get behind. Every American, Republican or Democrat, has a sacred responsibility to our veterans, and I, for one, will use this Veterans Day to examine where we can do better.
Mikie Sherrill has represented New Jersey’s 11th district since 2019. After graduating from the United States Naval Academy, she went on to serve almost 10 years on active duty in the United States Navy. As a Sea King helicopter pilot, she flew missions throughout Europe and the Middle East. She also worked on the Battle Watch Floor in the European Theater during the Iraq invasion, and served as a Flag Aide to the Deputy Commander of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet.
This essay originally appeared in The Ripon Forum.