On Memorial Day, we honor the military personnel who have died while serving the United States Armed Forces. During this time, we reflect on the freedoms we hold dear and the strength of the families these heroes have left behind.
This year to commemorate this sacrifice I took part in several events across the state. I was honored to join Commissioner Tom Saadi, of the Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs; Al Montoya Jr., Director of VA Connecticut Healthcare System; and Rep. Rosa DeLauro for a wreath laying ceremony at the VA West Haven Campus.
Pictured with (left) Representative DeLauro (CT-03), (right) Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Thomas J. Saadi, and (far right) Director of VA Connecticut Healthcare System, Alfred A. Montoya, Jr.
On Sunday, I joined the Waterbury Veterans Memorial Committee in the “Gold Star Families City,” for a ceremony to honor the “Thirty,” a group of 30 soldiers from Waterbury who sacrificed their all in Vietnam.
Pictured: Rep. Hayes speaking at the Waterbury Veterans Memorial Committee event honoring the "Thirty" who sacrificed their all in Vietnam.
My office also helped to secure a grave marker for Charles A. Smith Sr., a U.S. Army soldier. The Smith family needed assistance navigating their request with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"I want to thank Congresswoman Jahana Hayes and her staff for the relentless efforts in assisting our family in securing my father's military marker on this Memorial Day. It's with great pride that my father and all of the veterans are honored on this day. We applied for the grave marker and flag when he passed away over 6 years ago, but the VA denied our request. Through extreme frustration with the VA and determination to make sure my father received the honor he earned and deserved, I reached out to Congresswoman Jahana Hayes. Within a few months the VA approved her request for his marker and flag. Words can't express the joy I feel to surprise my mother and family with this honored tribute on this Memorial Day,” said the family of the late Charles Smith Sr., in a joint statement.
Pictured: Rep. Hayes with the Smith family at the cemetery to honor Charles Smith Sr. of the U.S. Army.
My office is committed to supporting the survivors and families of our Veterans. Last year, the Connecticut Chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart awarded my office the designation of “Purple Heart Office,” in acknowledgement of our dedication and support of America’s combat wounded Veterans. We are the only Congressional office on the East Coast to have received this honor and our office will soon appear on the Purple Heart Trail, a map to guide veterans to places where they will be met with kindness and respect.
As your Congresswoman, I have consistently advocated on behalf of our nation’s service members and their families. On May 24, I introduced H.R. 3402, the Caring for Survivors Act, which would expand eligibility and increase payments for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits for survivors. Currently, the families of service members who died from a service-connected condition receive DIC benefits monthly. The Caring for Survivors Act of 2021 would: (1) increase the monthly DIC benefits by approximately $300 per recipient; and (2) reduce the time frame a veteran must be disabled in order to qualify, allowing more survivors to become eligible for benefits. Read more about the legislation here.
In April, I introduced H.R. 2580, the Palomares Veterans Act of 2021, which would amend the law to include cleanup of Palomares as a “radiation risk activity,” providing veterans who put their health on the line serving during this disaster with disability compensation. This legislation would also make surviving spouses and their children eligible for DIC benefits.
In the 116th Congress, I introduced the VA Mental Health Staffing Act and the VA Mental Health Counseling Act. This legislation directs Veterans Affairs (VA) to renew their current mental health staffing plan, create individual staffing plans for new mental health provider positions, and submit a proposal to address any gaps. I am pleased this legislation was included in the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, which passed the House and Senate, and was signed into law by President Trump on October 17, 2020.
You may be interested to know I also cosponsor of H.R. 2806, the Honoring All Veterans Act; H.Res.50, a resolution to honor America’s Women and Minority Veterans, H.R. 2190, the Helping Homeless Veterans Act; H.R. 707 the Ghost Army Congressional Gold Medal Act; and H.R. 1276, the SAVE LIVES Act which was signed into law by President Biden on March 24, 2021.
As we continue to honor the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice serving our country, my hope is that our service members, veterans, and their families know they are not alone. I will continue to work to ensure our military families have access to the support and resources they have earned.
If you are the surviving family of a service member who needs assistance accessing benefits, receiving awards, or navigating the VA, please contact my office at (860) 223-8412. Our veterans’ liaison is dedicated to serving the Fifth District and will be able to assist.
On this day of solemn reflection, I am honored to be able to serve our service members, veterans, and their families.