Joined with Korean American Veterans, Rep. Pascrell in Fort Lee
Above: Gottheimer at the Fort Lee VFW joining with veterans to demand the Senate pass the PACT Act and VALOR Act.
FORT LEE, NJ — Today, August 2, 2022, at the Fort Lee VFW Cairola-Barber Post 2342, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) joined with Congressman Bill Pascrell Jr. (NJ-9), and Korean American Vietnam War veterans to demand that the U.S. Senate immediately pass the bipartisan PACT Act to expand access to care and benefits for our brave veterans exposed to burn pits and toxic substances. They also demanded that Congress pass a bipartisan provision, known as the VALOR Act. It will give thousands of South Korean immigrants who fought in the Vietnam War for the Korean Armed Forces alongside Americans and have become U.S. citizens, access to the same critical medical and home health care that other veterans receive through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
For decades, veterans of Allied Forces from World Wars I and II have been able to enroll in VA healthcare. But veterans of the Republic of Korea who fought with Americans in the Vietnam War are denied these same benefits. Since these veterans are now U.S. citizens, they receive very limited help from the South Korea government.
Gottheimer urging the Senate to pass the PACT Act comes after last month’s House passage, which included Gottheimer’s critical bipartisan provision to address the mental health impacts of toxic exposure for veterans. The PACT Act will secure benefits and care for Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan-era veterans exposed to toxic substances while serving overseas. The bill will expand the VA’s benefits and services to roughly 3.5 million veterans. Unfortunately, 25 Senators recently voted to block the passage of the PACT Act.
“I am here to strongly urge my Senate colleagues on the other side of the aisle to stop playing partisan games with the health and lives of our Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan-era veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic chemicals – and to please do the right thing and pass the PACT act this week. Our veterans are sick and dying,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “Whether it’s Vietnam War or Afghanistan veterans, I can’t think of anything more un-American than putting party before the health and care of our nation’s veterans — the very people who risked their lives, left their families behind while they went to fight, and made unimaginable sacrifices so that all of us can be safe and free here at home.”
Gottheimer continued, “Please know this: as Korean American Vietnam War veterans who’ve sacrificed so much, you should never struggle to get the care or recognition you have earned fighting arm in arm with Americans in Vietnam. No veteran should. That’s why we are here to fight for the passage of the VALOR Act for our Korean American Vietnam Veterans.”
Gottheimer was joined by Congressman Bill Pascrell (NJ-9), Korean American Vietnam War Veterans from New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, Veteran Advocate, U.S.A.F. Cold War Veteran, and 2342 VFW member Barbara St. Martin Cho, Esq., Executive Director of Bilingual Veterans’ Outreach Centers of Mass, Inc., Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) National Minority Affairs Committee Chair, and Vietnam and career U.S. Army Veteran Gumersindo Gomez, Founder & Commander Emeritus of the Korean American Vietnam War Veterans of Fort Lee, VVA National Minority Affairs Committee Member, ROK Army Vietnam Veteran and U.S. Army Veteran, and 2342 VFW Trustee of Fort Lee NJ Kee Jung Kim, Korean War Vet 1st Marine Division, 2342 VFW Judge Advocate, Officer of the Day, & longest serving active post member, Commander MASH Northern Valley Chapter and Leonia American Legion Albert J. Gonzales, New Jersey State Senator Gordon Johnson, Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, Fort Lee Councilmember Harvey Sohmer, Fort Lee Councilmember Paul Yoon, Bergen County Commissioner Germaine Ortiz, Bergen County Clerk John Hogan, Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton, Bergen County Veterans Coordinator Shawn Hutchinson, and John Hwang of the Korean American Association of Fort Lee.
Video of today’s press conference can be found here.
Below: Gottheimer at the Fort Lee VFW joining with veterans to demand the Senate pass the PACT Act and VALOR Act.
Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below.
Good morning. It’s great to be here in Fort Lee.
Before I begin, to all the veterans here, the more than 20,000 across my district, and the nearly 18 million nationwide, thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your service, for putting your lives on the line to defend freedom, our families, and our democratic values. There would be no flag to pledge our allegiance to without you. As General Douglas MacArthur said, “Duty, honor, country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be.”
To me, those three hallowed words are what bring us together today.
Please know this: as Korean American Vietnam War veterans who’ve sacrificed so much, you should never struggle to get the care or recognition you have earned fighting arm in arm with Americans in Vietnam. No veteran should.
That’s why we are here to fight for the passage of the VALOR Act for our Korean American Vietnam Veterans. I am also here to strongly urge my Senate colleagues on the other side of the aisle to stop playing partisan games with the health and lives of our Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan-era veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic chemicals – and to please do the right thing and pass the PACT act this week. Our veterans are sick and dying. Of the more than 200,000 veterans who have signed up for the VA’s burn pit registry — 70% of claims have been denied. It’s inexcusable. They deserve help and support.
Last month, we passed the bipartisan PACT Act in the House to expand access to care and benefits for our brave veterans exposed to burn pits and toxic substances during their service — and it included my critical bipartisan provision to address the mental health impacts of toxic exposure for veterans.
Whether its Vietnam War of Afghanistan veterans, I can’t think of anything more un-American than putting party before the health and care of our nation’s veterans — the very people who risked their lives, left their families behind while they went to fight, and made unimaginable sacrifices so that all of us can be safe and free here at home.
Enough is enough. The Senate needs to get their act together and immediately pass the PACT Act.
It’s time we got their backs, just like we need to get the backs of Jersey’s Korean American community.
Korea is one of America’s closest, most important allies — sharing key values such as democracy, human rights, and free market values.
More than 300,000 Korean soldiers fought alongside Americans throughout the Vietnam War, and Koreans were the second largest contingent of foreign soldiers defending South Vietnam, behind only the United States. More than 5,000 Korean soldiers were killed and nearly 11,000 injured during the conflict.
Unfortunately, many Korean American Vietnam veterans suffer from PTSD, depression, and other chronic problems as a direct result of their time in the war.
For decades, veterans of Allied Forces from World Wars I and II have been able to enroll in VA healthcare, but veterans of the Republic of Korea who fought with Americans in the Vietnam War and who also became U.S. citizens are denied these same benefits.
And, to make matters worse, since these veterans are now U.S. citizens, they receive very limited help from the South Korea government.
That’s why, in our annual defense bill, my House colleagues and I, including Mr. Takano and Bill Pascrell, recently passed a bipartisan amendment to expand healthcare benefits to South Korean veterans who became American citizens after serving for the Korean Armed Forces alongside Americans in Vietnam. Full and complete care — the same benefits all veterans got. That’s the least we can do to get their backs.
On July 14, our provision known as the Korean American Vietnam Allies Long Overdue for Relief Act, or VALOR Act, passed. It will give thousands of Korean immigrants who fought in the Vietnam War, and have become U.S. citizens, access to the same critical medical and home health care that other veterans receive through the VA. And many of these veterans live right here in New Jersey.
As Mr. Gomez and Barbara said, we’re calling on the Senate to immediately vote on and pass the bipartisan defense bill to ensure that these Korean American veterans receive the care they’ve earned. No delays. No more excuses. Let me be clear: there is nothing partisan about this.
In times of great distress, we have always done best when we’ve stood together here at home and with our allies abroad.
Korean American Vietnam Veterans risked and gave their lives to fight with us, hundreds of thousands fought and thousands died. Now, it’s high time we get their backs.
In addition to fighting to pass the VALOR Act, I want to say one more thin. Here in New Jersey, our diversity remains our greatest strength. I’m working in Congress to support the more than 60,000 people of Korean descent here in Bergen County.
I know that the pandemic put an immense burden on small businesses, many are still feeling the effects, and today’s rising COVID-19-driven costs have been tough on our families and businesses.
That’s why I’ve launched a new Affordability Agenda for Jersey, to help make life more affordable for North Jersey families and to get more money back into families’ pockets.
The agenda includes aggressively addressing our COVID-driven supply chain crisis, combating our dependence on foreign manufacturing, and working to get grocery and gas prices down. It also includes cutting day-to-day costs like prescription drug and childcare costs, helping cut through red tape and bureaucracy, cutting taxes for hard-working families, and clawing back federal dollars from Washington to North Jersey small businesses — as I helped get done during the height of the pandemic.
This past week, we made great progress by passing the bipartisan CHIPS bill to boost our domestic manufacturing of semiconductors and lessen our dependence on China. And I’m urging the Justice Department to fight collusion in the meat and poultry space to help get prices down in the grocery store.
Even as we get our economy into fighting shape, we have to always keep our eye on another fight – and that’s to protect our families and stand up for our shared Jersey Values. The last years, especially during the pandemic, left behind a significant rise of racially-charged attacks against the AAPI community.
I hear stories of residents having to carry pepper spray when they leave the house and fear letting their kids go out alone.
I hear from AAPI residents that this fear has become their new normal. They are constantly thinking about if it’s safe to walk outside alone and making sure not to stand too close to the edge of the subway — fearing that they may be the next victim.
That’s why my door is always open and why my number one priority is to do everything I can to make life better for all our residents.
And as we’ve seen horrific hate crimes increase, I’ve been fighting in Congress to pass my bipartisan, bicameral legislation — the Invest to Protect Act — to make critical, targeted investments in our local law enforcement.
My bill will invest in local law enforcement — to recruit and retain only the finest officers, to support training, and to provide mental health resources to keep our officers and communities safe.
We made great progress last week in our efforts to get my bill to the floor for a vote, and we will continue working to get it across the finish line.
You cannot cut or defund your way to safer communities and better police departments. Instead, we must invest to protect our officers and our communities.
I have every faith — working together, like we’re coming together today, here in the greatest country in the world — that our best days will always be ahead of us. That includes getting the backs of our brave veterans, making sure you have the care you deserve, keeping our communities safe, advocating for our small businesses, and supporting our incredible Korean American community here in Jersey.
God bless you and may God continue to bless the United States of America.
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