Issue: Veterans

Walorski Resolution Would Honor Military Working Dogs, Encourage Adoption by Former Handlers

Walorski Resolution Would Honor Military Working Dogs, Encourage Adoption by Former Handlers

Congresswoman Recently Helped Reunite Hoosier Veteran with Canine Partner from Afghanistan Deployment

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) today introduced a House resolution recognizing the service and sacrifice of military working dogs and their handlers who served in the U.S. Army’s Tactical Explosive Detection Dog (TEDD) program. H.Con.Res. 43 would also encourage government agencies and military services to prioritize former handlers when a former military working dog becomes available for adoption.

“Military working dogs and their handlers have served our country with courage, and we owe them a debt of gratitude for risking their lives to protect our national security and keep our servicemembers safe on the battlefield,” Congresswoman Walorski said. “I saw what it meant to Hoosier veteran Joe Steenbeke when he was finally reunited with his loyal canine partner, Tess, years after their deployment to Afghanistan. This resolution honors the service and sacrifice of heroes like Tess and Joe by encouraging adoption of retired military working dogs by their former handlers.”

Earlier this year, U.S. Army veteran Joseph Steenbeke of Culver, Ind., was reunited with Tess, the bomb-sniffing dog who served at his side during a nearly year-long deployment to Afghanistan. Joe’s wife Stephanie contacted Walorski’s office in 2018 seeking help adopting Tess, an 11-year-old Belgian Malinois. The congresswoman worked with the Steenbekes, the U.S. military, and the Connecticut National Guard to ensure Joe would be first in line once Tess was retired from service.

H.Con.Res. 43 also recognizes the work of the late Congressman Walter B. Jones to promote military working dogs as unsung heroes on the battlefield and in helping wounded warriors recover from physical and mental injuries.

The full text of the resolution is below, and a copy is available here.

Recognizing the honorable service of military working dogs and soldier handlers in the tactical explosive detection dog program of the Army and encouraging the Army and other government agencies, including law enforcement agencies, with former tactical explosive detection dogs to prioritize adoption of the dogs to former tactical explosive detection dog handlers.

Whereas the 341st Training Squadron, 37th Training Wing at Lackland Air Force Base provides highly trained military working dogs to the Department of Defense and other government agencies;

Whereas in 2010, the operational needs of the Army for military working dogs increased without an increase in resources to train a sufficient number of dogs for the detection of improvised explosive devices at the 341st Training Squadron;

Whereas the Army initiated the tactical explosive detection dog program in August 2010 as a nontraditional military working dog program to train and field improvised explosive device detection dogs for use in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom;

Whereas the tactical explosive detection dog program was created to reduce casualties from improvised explosive devices in response to an increase in the use of asymmetric weapons by the enemy;

Whereas the tactical explosive detection dogs were a unique subset of military working dogs because the Army selected and trained soldiers from deploying units to serve as temporary handlers for only the duration of deployment to Operation Enduring Freedom;

Whereas the tactical explosive detection dogs and their soldier handlers, like other military working dog and handler teams, formed strong bonds while training for combat and performing extremely dangerous improvised explosive device detection missions in service to the United States;

Whereas the tactical explosive detection dog program was a nontraditional military working dog program that terminated in February 2014;

Whereas at the termination of the tactical explosive detection dog program in February 2014, neither United States law nor Department of Defense policy established an adoption order priority, and Department of Defense policy only provided that military working dogs be adopted by former handlers, law enforcement agencies, and other persons capable of humanely caring for the animals;

Whereas an August 2016 report to Congress by the Air Force entitled ‘‘Tactical Explosive Detector Dog (TEDD) Adoption Report’’ concluded that the Army had a limited transition window for the disposition of tactical explosive detection dogs and the lack of a formal comprehensive plan contributed to the disorganized disposition process for the tactical explosive detection dogs;

Whereas the August 2016 report stated that, in 2014, the Army disposed of 229 tactical explosive detection dogs;

Whereas 40 tactical explosive detection dogs were adopted by handlers, 47 dogs were adopted by private individuals, 70 dogs were transferred to Army units, 17 dogs were transferred to other government agencies, 46 dogs were transferred to law enforcement agencies, and 9 dogs were deceased;

Whereas the disposition of tactical explosive detection dogs was poorly executed, proper procedures outlined in Department of Defense policy were ignored, and, as a result, the former soldier handlers were not provided the opportunity to adopt their tactical explosive detection dogs;

Whereas the Army should have deliberately planned for the disposition of the tactical explosive detection dogs and provided appropriate time to review and consider adoption applications to mitigate handler and civilian adoption issues;

Whereas section 342(b) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 (Public Law 114–92; 129

Stat. 793) amended section 2583(c) of title 10, United States Code, to modify the list of persons authorized to adopt a military animal and prioritize the list with preference, respectively, to former handlers, other persons capable of humanely caring for the animal, and law enforcement agencies;

Whereas since 2000, Congress has passed legislation that protects military working dogs, promotes their welfare, and recognizes the needs of their veteran handlers;

Whereas Congress continues to provide oversight of military working dogs to prevent a reoccurrence of the disposition issues that affected tactical explosive detection dogs;

Whereas former soldier handlers should be reunited with their tactical explosive detection dogs;

Whereas congressional recognition of the military service of tactical explosive detection dogs and their former soldier handlers is a small measure of gratitude this legislative body can convey;

Whereas over 4 years have passed since the termination of the tactical explosive detection dog program;

Whereas Congressman Walter B. Jones has been a long-time advocate for military working dogs and their handlers;

Whereas Congressman Walter B. Jones has worked to ensure that handlers are given priority when their military working dogs reach retirement;

Whereas Congressman Walter B. Jones was a strong proponent of the Wounded Warrior Service Dog program, which is a valuable program that helps wounded members of the Armed Forces manage and recover from post-traumatic stress;

Whereas the advocacy of Congressman Walter B. Jones for military working dogs is well known throughout the non- profit community that supports military working dogs;

Whereas Congressman Walter B. Jones worked with the Department of Defense and the Senate to update the language in the Air Force Manual on Military Working Dogs to clarify that military working dogs are not equipment and to indicates the true level of appreciation and respect the Department of Defense has for these valuable members of the military team;

Whereas Congressman Walter B. Jones was the chief legislative sponsor of the Military Working Dog Teams Monument, which was built with no taxpayer dollars but through corporate and private donations; and

Whereas with the support of Congressman Walter B. Jones, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (Public Law 110–181) authorized the Burnam Foundation to design, fund, build, and maintain the Military Working Dog Teams National Monument: Now, therefore, be it—

Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That Congress—

(1) recognizes the efforts of Congressman Walter B. Jones to promote military working dogs as unsung heroes on the battlefield and in helping wounded warriors recover from physical and mental injuries;

(2) recognizes the service of military working dogs and soldier handlers from the tactical explosive detection dog program;

(3) acknowledges that not all tactical explosive detection dogs were adopted by their former soldier handlers;

(4) encourages the Army and other government agencies, including law enforcement agencies, with former tactical explosive detection dogs to prioritize adoption to former tactical explosive detection dog handlers; and

(5) honors the sacrifices made by tactical explosive detection dogs and their soldier handlers in combat.

Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

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Walorski Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Increase Health Care Access for Veterans’ Newborns

Walorski Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Increase Health Care Access for Veterans’ Newborns

Newborn Care Improvement Act Would Extend VA Health Care for Newborns

WASHINGTON – U.S. Reps. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.), Susie Lee (D-Nev.), Doug Collins (R-Ga.), and Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) today introduced bipartisan legislation to improve health care coverage for newborn children of veterans. The Newborn Care Improvement Act would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide care for newborns for 14 days, doubling the current limit of seven days.

“Women who served our country with strength and courage deserve the best health care possible from the VA,” Congresswoman Walorski said. “By improving care for newborns, this bipartisan bill will ensure women veterans get the support and care they need to raise healthy families.”

“Our women veterans deserve the best health care and maternal care for them and their families,” said Lee. “Starting a family can be an overwhelming time for anyone, making it even more important to ensure our veterans have the resources and time they need to get the best maternal care. I’m proud to team up with Rep. Collins–who has been a leader on this issue for years, Rep. Houlahan, and Rep. Walorski to work across the aisle and introduce the Newborn Care Improvement Act and help improve the lives of our braves veterans and their families.”

“Too often, new mothers receiving medical care from the VA face financial challenges and complex insurance decisions while seeking to obtain critical care for their newborns,” said Collins. “Ensuring the VA expands care for the women who selflessly serve in our armed forces continues to be a priority for me, and I’m proud to join my colleagues in reintroducing the Newborn Care Improvement Act. This legislation will ease the burden on female veterans by doubling the length of time their newborns are eligible to receive medical care from the VA.”

“As a veteran, I know all too well the challenges new veteran mothers face,” said Houlahan. “No new mother should have to worry about where their newborn will receive care. I’m proud to work across the aisle and join my colleagues in introducing the bipartisan Newborn Care Improvement, a critical piece of legislation that will double the length of time veteran mothers’ newborns can receive medical care at the VA. It is essential that we continue the necessary work to better support our brave women veterans and their families.”

BACKGROUND

The Newborn Care Improvement Act would allow the VA to provide 14 days of post-delivery care to the newborn child of a woman veteran who is receiving VA maternity care. The child must have been delivered in a VA facility or another facility with which VA has a contract for such services. Currently, such care may not be provided for more than seven days. The bill would also require a report to Congress on how many newborns receive care under this legislation.

Senators Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) introduced companion legislation in the Senate earlier this year.

Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

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Walorski Honors Veteran Joe Steenbeke as “Hoosier Hero” After Reunion with Canine Partner Tess

Walorski Honors Veteran Joe Steenbeke as “Hoosier Hero” After Reunion with Canine Partner Tess

Military Working Dog Adopted by Former Handler Nearly Five Years After Deployment Ended

MISHAWAKA, Ind. – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) recently honored Culver, Ind., veteran Joseph Steenbeke as a “Hoosier Hero” and welcomed home Tess, the bomb-sniffing dog Joe was partnered with in Afghanistan.

Joe, who was a Tactical Explosive Device Dog (TEDD) handler during his service in the U.S. Army, last month officially adopted Tess, the Belgian Malinois who was his partner during nearly a year-long deployment to Afghanistan. Tess has served with the Connecticut National Guard since their deployment ended in early 2013.

After Joe’s wife Stephanie contacted the congresswoman’s office in 2018 seeking help adopting Tess, Walorski worked with the Steenbekes, the U.S. military, and the Connecticut National Guard to ensure her former handler would be first in line once Tess was retired from service.

Walorski entered a statement into the Congressional Record honoring Joe’s service and recognizing the friendship between Joe and Tess. The text of her statement is below.

“Madam Speaker, I rise today to recognize the bravery, service, and friendship of Hoosier veteran Joseph Steenbeke and his beloved canine partner Tess.

“Joe and Tess served side-by-side to defend our freedom, and they are true American heroes. Joe served in the U.S. Army, working as a Tactical Explosive Detection Dog, or TEDD, handler. From May 2012 to February 2013, he was deployed to Afghanistan with Tess, a Belgian Malinois trained to detect IEDs, at his side.

“Joe served his country with courage and strength. But as Joe’s wife Stephanie put it: “He risked his life fighting beside an even stronger force, Tess.” She was Joe’s partner, his protector, and his best friend. When their service together ended, Joe returned home to Indiana, and Tess moved on to her next mission for the Connecticut National Guard. But their bond remained strong.

“Over the next five years, Joe never stopped thinking about Tess and never gave up on the idea of adopting her. Like so many of our brave veterans do when they return from war, Joe struggled with PTSD. But his love for Tess and his determination to bring her home gave him strength and hope. And that’s when Stephanie wrote me a letter asking to help them complete this mission.

“It was a great honor to work with Joe and Stephanie, the U.S. military, and the Connecticut National Guard to ensure once Tess was retired she could be adopted by her former handler. And I was thrilled to be able to call Joe a few weeks ago with the good news: Tess would soon be his again. Now she is with the Steenbekes in her forever home in Culver, Indiana, taking on her latest mission as Joe’s partner, protector, and best friend.

“Madam Speaker, I ask my colleagues to join me in recognizing the courage and sacrifice of Joe Steenbeke and the loyal companionship of his beloved dog Tess. On behalf of 2nd District Hoosiers, I am grateful for their service to our country and the powerful example they set. This is more than a story of man’s best friend. This is the story of an unbreakable bond between two American heroes.”

Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

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Walorski Votes to Expand Veterans’ Access to VA Child Care Services

Walorski Votes to Expand Veterans’ Access to VA Child Care Services

House Passes Bipartisan Bill to Expand Child Care Access for Veterans Receiving VA Care

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) today voted to expand veterans’ access to child care services at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities.

“Our veterans face unique challenges, but veterans with families should not face barriers to accessing mental health and medical care services,” Congresswoman Walorski said. “This important, bipartisan bill will make it easier for our nation’s heroes – especially female veterans – to access child care services while they receive the VA care they need. I hope the Senate acts quickly to send the Veterans’ Access to Child Care Act to the president’s desk.”

BACKGROUND

The House passed the Veterans’ Access to Child Care Act (H.R. 840) by a vote of 400 to 9.

Lack of child care services at many VA facilities is often cited as a barrier to care for veterans, especially female veterans. H.R. 840 would make permanent the VA’s Child Care Pilot Program and expand access to veterans who serve as primary caretakers and travel to certain VA facilities for mental health care and other intensive health services.

Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

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Walorski Statement on President Trump’s State of the Union Address

Walorski Statement on President Trump’s State of the Union Address

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) today released the following statement on President Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address:

“President Trump spoke to the American people with clarity, a call for unity, and a renewed commitment to our shared ideals.

“We need to work together to keep our economic momentum going, allow our manufacturers and farmers to succeed, and make sure hardworking Hoosiers have the opportunity to achieve the American Dream. We need to defend against global threats by working alongside our allies, standing strong against our adversaries, and continuing to rebuild our military. And we need both sides need to come together to fix our broken immigration system and secure our borders.

“I stand ready to work with President Trump, his administration, and my colleagues in Congress to find commonsense solutions that make our country and our communities stronger.”

Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

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Walorski, Kuster Reintroduce Bill to Ensure Military Sexual Trauma Survivors Can Access Care

Walorski, Kuster Reintroduce Bill to Ensure Military Sexual Trauma Survivors Can Access Care

Bipartisan Legislation Expands Eligibility for VA Travel Benefits

WASHINGTON – U.S. Reps. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) and Annie Kuster (D-N.H.) today reintroduced bipartisan legislation to help survivors of military sexual trauma (MST) access treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). H.R. 713 would make MST survivors eligible for benefits to cover expenses when they need to travel long distances to receive treatment.

“Survivors of military sexual trauma should never face unnecessary barriers to overcoming their physical and psychological pain,” Congresswoman Walorski said. “Keeping our promise to our nation’s veterans is not just about providing the best possible care – it’s about making sure veterans can access the treatment and services they need, regardless of their geographic location or their distance from VA facilities. This bipartisan bill will help survivors of military sexual trauma by expanding eligibility for travel benefits when they need to travel long distances to receive care.”

“The prevalence of sexual trauma in the military is outrageous,” said Kuster. “Sadly, many survivors of military sexual trauma face challenges in accessing the physical and mental health services they need when they return home, because the VA does not provide travel benefits to all victims of MST. This failure must end. It’s critical that survivors are able access care that will help them recover from this trauma.”

BACKGROUND

The crisis of servicemembers experiencing sexual assault and harassment remains a serious problem in the military. According to VA data, approximately one in four women and one in 10 men seeking VA care say they experienced military sexual trauma. In fiscal year 2017, the Department of Defense (DoD) received 6,769 reports of sexual assault involving servicemembers, a nearly 10 percent increase over the previous year.

The VA provides counseling, health care services, and other treatment to veterans who experienced MST. However, many survivors must travel long distances to receive treatment but are unable to obtain travel benefits to access the care they need. H.R. 713 would allow veterans to be reimbursed for travel outside their Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) when seeking treatment related to MST.

A 2012 VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) report found the VA’s Beneficiary Travel policy does not align with its MST treatment policy, under which MST patients are referred to programs that are clinically indicated regardless of geographic location. Veterans with MST are often admitted to programs outside their VISN, but obtaining authorization for travel funding is frequently cited as a problem.

Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

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Walorski, Brownley Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Help More Veterans Become Entrepreneurs

Walorski, Brownley Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Help More Veterans Become Entrepreneurs

WASHINGTON – U.S. Reps. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) and Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) today introduced the Veteran Entrepreneurs Act, legislation to help veterans achieve the American Dream by reducing barriers often in the way of starting a small business. The bill lowers up-front costs for veterans opening a franchise – a good option for first-time small business owners because of the built-in support – by cutting red tape and creating a tax credit to cover 25 percent of initial franchisee fees.

“Our nation’s veterans are leaders and innovators in their own right,” Congresswoman Walorski said. “Who better to start businesses, create jobs, and grow our economy than those who bravely served our country? This bipartisan legislation will not only lift up our local small business community, it will help servicemembers return to civilian life and give them a better chance to achieve the American Dream they fought to protect. I am grateful to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to help provide the support our veterans earned.”

“Veterans have served our country with honor and distinction, and it is our duty to ensure that they can succeed in the job market when they’ve transitioned back to civilian life,” said Congresswoman Julia Brownley. “For many former servicemembers, their training and leadership skills mean they would make excellent small business owners, but they sometimes lack the initial capital needed to get started. I am proud to co-author this bipartisan legislation with Congresswoman Walorski to help more veterans achieve their dream of becoming entrepreneurs so they can better support themselves and their families.”

The text of the bill is available here.

Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

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Walorski Supports Record Funding for Veterans

Walorski Supports Record Funding for Veterans

House Passes VA Funding Bill with Increased Resources, Stronger Oversight

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) today voted for legislation that provides a record level of funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and strengthens accountability measures.

“As Americans, we have a responsibility the brave men and women who fought for us,” Congresswoman Walorski said. “This legislation will help our veterans get the resources and care they earned, and it will strengthen oversight to restore a culture of accountability at the VA. As we continue working to fix the VA, we are making the investments needed to rebuild trust in the VA and keep our nation’s promise to our veterans.”

BACKGROUND

The Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act, 2019 (H.R. 5895) provides $85.3 billion in discretionary funding for the VA, an increase of $3.9 billion from current funding levels and the highest dollar amount ever for the department. It passed the House by a vote of 235 to 179.

The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs portion of H.R. 5895 includes:

  • $71.2 billion overall for medical care, including mental health services, suicide prevention outreach, traumatic brain injury treatment, homeless veteran services, opioid abuse prevention, and rural veterans health initiatives;
  • $1.2 billion to modernize the VA’s electronic health record system so veterans can seamlessly transition to from military service;
  • $1.1 billion for the new Veterans Community Care Program and the Family Caregivers Program under the VA MISSION Act;
  • Resources to process disability claims for the 450,000 veterans waiting for the compensation they deserve;
  • Funding for VA oversight offices to protect whistleblowers and investigate reports of poor patient care;
  • Stronger oversight of VA claims processing and construction projects to ensure the VA is accountable to veterans and taxpayers; and
    $10.3 billion for military construction projects, including military installations, schools and housing for military families, and medical facilities for servicemembers.

Earlier this week, President Trump signed into law the VA MISSION Act. The new law streamlines VA community care programs into one cohesive program and provides funding to extend the Veterans Choice Program until the new program is implemented. It also creates a nonpartisan process for reviewing and modernizing VA’s medical infrastructure, expands caregiver benefits, and improves provider recruitment, training, and retention.

Walorski recently testified before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, calling for greater accountability across the VA to improve care for veterans. Video of her testimony is available here.

Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

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Walorski Statement on VA MISSION Act

Walorski Statement on VA MISSION Act

President Signs Veterans Health Care Overhaul Into Law

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) today released the following statement after President Trump signed the VA MISSION Act into law to streamline community care programs and extend Veterans Choice Program funding:

“America’s veterans risked their lives to defend freedom and keep us safe. This bipartisan law is a major step toward fulfilling our nation’s promise to those who served. I look forward to continuing to work to fix the VA and restore a culture of accountability so all our veterans get the timely, quality care they earned.”

BACKGROUND

The House passed the John S. McCain III, Daniel K. Akaka, and Samuel R. Johnson VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act, also known as the VA MISSION Act, on May 16 by a bipartisan vote of 347 to 70. The Senate followed suit on May 23, sending the bill to the president’s desk.

The new law streamlines the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) community care programs into one cohesive program and provides funding to extend the Veterans Choice Program until the new program is implemented. It also creates a nonpartisan process for reviewing and modernizing VA’s medical infrastructure, expands caregiver benefits, and improves provider recruitment, training, and retention.

Congresswoman Walorski recently testified before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, calling for greater accountability across the VA to improve care for veterans.

“Hiring, firing, and mobility throughout VA are stagnant, and human resources are overdue for a complete makeover,” Walorski said. “The VA Accountability Act is a major accomplishment, but accountability also has to be a principle that the workforce, especially the middle management, actually embraces. The VA needs a culture of accountability to our veterans.”

Video of Walorski testifying before the committee is available here.

Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

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Walorski Welcomes Hoosier Honor Flight Veterans

Walorski Welcomes Hoosier Honor Flight Veterans

Local Veterans Visited Nation’s Capital with Honor Flight Northeast Indiana

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) today welcomed Hoosier veterans to the nation’s capital as they visited the World War II Memorial and other sites with Honor Flight Northeast Indiana.

“As we approach Memorial Day, our nation reflects on the immeasurable sacrifices of the men and women who served and those who did not return home,” Congresswoman Walorski said. “The brave Hoosiers I met today answered the call to serve, and we owe them a debt of gratitude. I was honored to thank them for their service and for risking their lives to keep America safe and free.”

Photos of Walorski greeting veterans at the National World War II Memorial are available here.

Walorski represents the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana, serving as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

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