April 14, 2005
Statement of Senator Barack Obama
Amendment to Provide Meals and Phone Service to Wounded Veterans
President, today I am offering an amendment to the fiscal year 2005
Emergency Supplemental, which I am pleased to announce is being
cosponsored by Senators Corzine, Bingaman, and Graham. This amendment
would meet certain needs of our injured service members in recognition
of the tremendous sacrifices they have made in defense of our country.
The other day
I had the opportunity to visit some of our wounded heroes at Walter
Reed Army Medical Center.
I know that many
of my colleagues have made the same trip and I'd heard about their
visits, but there is nothing that can fully prepare you for what
you see when you take that first step into the Physical Therapy
These are kids
in there. Our kids. The ones we watched grow up. The ones we hoped
would live lives that were happy, healthy, and safe. These kids
left their homes and families for a dangerous place halfway around
the world. After years of being protected by their parents, these
kids risked their lives to protect us.
And now, some
of them have come home from that war with scars that may change
their lives forever - scars that may never heal. And yet they sit
there in that hospital, so full of hope and still so proud of their
These kids are
the best of America. They deserve our highest respect, and they
deserve our help.
Recently, I learned
that some of our most severely wounded soldiers are being forced
to pay for their own meals and their own phone calls while being
treated in medical hospitals.
Up until last
year, there was a law on the books that prohibited soldiers from
receiving both their basic subsistence allowance and free meals
from the military. Basically, this law allowed the government to
charge our wounded heroes for food while they were recovering from
their war injuries.
body acted to change this law in 2003 so that wounded soldiers wouldn't
have to pay for their meals.
But, we're dealing
with a bureaucracy here, and as we all know, nothing is ever simple
in a bureaucracy. So now, because the Department of Defense doesn't
consider getting physical therapy or rehabilitation services in
a medical hospital as "being hospitalized," there are
wounded veterans who still do not qualify for the free meals other
veterans receive. And after 90 days, even those classified as hospitalized
on an outpatient status lose their free meals as well.
Also, while our
soldiers in the field qualify for free phone service, injured service
men and women who may be hospitalized hundreds or thousands of miles
from home do not receive this benefit.
For soldiers whose
family members aren't able to take off work and travel to a military
hospital, hearing the familiar voice of a mom or dad or husband
or wife on the other side of the phone can make all the difference
in the world.
And yet, our government
will not help pay for these calls. And it will not help pay for
Think about that.
Think about the sacrifice these kids have made for their country,
many of them literally risking life and sacrificing limb.
And now, at $8.10
a meal, they could end up with a $250 bill from the government that
sent them to war every single month. This is wrong, and we have
a moral obligation to fix it.
The first amendment
that I'm offering today will do this. It will expand the group of
"hospitalized" soldiers who cannot be charged for their
meals to include those service members undergoing medical recuperation,
therapy or otherwise on "medical hold." The number of
people affected by this amendment will be small. Only about 4000
service members are estimated to fall under the category of "non-hospitalized."
is retroactive to January 1, 2005, in an effort to provide those
injured service members who may have received bills for their meals
with some relief from those costs. The amendment will also extend
free phone service to those injured service members who are hospitalized
or otherwise undergoing medical recuperation or therapy. I am proud
that this amendement is supported by the American Legion, and I
hope my colleagues will join them in that support.
I ask my colleagues
to join me in supporting this amendment. These are our kids out
there, and they're risking their lives for us. When they come home
with injuries, the government that asked these kids to serve should
provide them with the best possible care and support. This is a
small price to pay for those who have sacrificed so much for their
I thank the Senior
Senator from Alaska and my colleague from Mississippi for working
with me on this issue. I am hopeful we can reach an agreement on