The timing of Memorial Day may be an opportunity to gather with friends and family to mark the beginning of summer, but we can never forget that this important American holiday is meant for much more: to solemnly remember and recognize those who died while serving our country. On Memorial Day, together as a nation, we all join together to pay tribute to their bravery, their heroism and their sacrifice.
It’s also important that we do everything we can to ensure the families of the heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice receive full recognition and support. I was reminded of this earlier this week when I had the privilege of presenting a Purple Heart and other medals to the family of a Bronx World War II veteran, Carmelo DiGregorio. Carmelo died while serving at sea in 1943, but his family is only now receiving the awards he earned 70 years ago. It is wrong that one of our local heroes had never gotten the recognition he deserved, but I was so honored to help his family finally obtain the medals they should have received. Below is a picture I took with Carmelo’s brother, Ben.
While Memorial Day is a time to remember the service members we’ve lost, it’s also an opportunity to ensure we are supporting those who have come home. Beyond our thanks and recognition, it’s important we make sure our veterans get the services and benefits they deserve. In the past few years, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has accrued an excessive backlog of disability claims. At best, it can take up to nine months for veterans to start receiving benefits. Some have to wait even longer.
This is an unacceptable way to treat the brave men and women who put their lives on the line for us. Last month, I joined my colleagues in the House of Representatives in urging greater oversight of the VA and making sure they take immediate steps to improve the backlog. Taking care of our service members, both while in the line of duty and when they return home, must always be our top priority. As we consider the VA’s budget next month, you can be sure I will continue to work hard to ensure our veterans have the resources and benefits they have earned.
And finally, we can’t forget the brave Americans who are currently serving at war or in other dangerous places overseas. Below is a message I recorded to our troops. As Americans across the country celebrate Memorial Day, I hope you will join me in thanking our service members and veterans for all they do to protect our nation.