Submitted by Senator Roger Wicker

The Mississippi Senator invites all Mississippians to show our gratitude toward those who have sacrificed to protect our freedom.

Howard Jefferson Parker, Jr., was a day shy of 18 years old when he joined the U.S. Navy in 1944. Just six months later, he found himself in the Pacific onboard the USS South Africa as a gunner tasked with protecting military supplies headed for Guam. During those perilous months at sea, young Jeff would face Japanese artillery, submarine attacks, and kamikaze planes. Through each of his encounters with the enemy, Mr. Parker showed resilience and courageously performed his duties under fire. Yet for decades, his combat actions were not properly recognized.

Today Mr. Parker is 96 and lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi. I recently had the chance to meet him and present him with a long-overdue Combat Action Ribbon, which officially recognizes his service in combat. I was glad to assist him and his family with the application process for this well-deserved recognition, as I have done with many veterans.

On November 11, our nation will celebrate Veterans Day by honoring those like Mr. Parker who have served our country in uniform. As we mark the occasion, I invite all Mississippians to show our gratitude toward those who have sacrificed to protect our freedom.

Serving Our Veterans Well

As an Air Force veteran, the son of a World War II veteran, and the father of an Air Force officer, I understand the sacrifices made by our service members and their families. We have a sacred obligation to keep faith with those who have defended our country.

This past August, I voted in favor of the PACT Act, which will improve access to health care and funding for veterans who were exposed to toxic substances during their service. I also worked to correct failures at the Department of Veterans Affairs through the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act. Additionally, I supported the VA MISSION Act, which has reduced wait times and removed restrictions on telemedicine and private care. And in a win for retired veterans, I helped secure funding to build the Gulfport State Veterans Home, which is scheduled to be completed next year and will accommodate up to 100 veterans.

Vaccine Mandates Must Go

Unfortunately, many active-duty service members have become veterans earlier than they expected, having been forced out of the military over the Biden Administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. In August of 2021, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin imposed a mandate requiring all military personnel to be vaccinated or else face expulsion from the ranks. Since then, some of our best and brightest service members have been expelled for refusing the vaccine, even though the military faces a recruitment crisis and is in desperate need of volunteers. In July, I sent a letter to the Secretary of Defense demanding that he rescind this pointless mandate. President Biden has admitted that the pandemic is over, and his Administration needs to act like it.

Congress to Pass Defense Bill

After honoring our veterans this weekend, Congress will return to session to finish the year’s legislative business. One of my top priorities will be passing the annual National Defense Authorization Act to provide for the needs of our military. This year’s bill includes important support for veterans, including a federal task force to protect veterans from financial fraud, reimbursement for veterans who helped with the Afghanistan evacuation, programming for veterans’ mental health services, and support for veteran-owned small businesses. I am glad to have helped negotiate this bill, and I look forward to seeing it cross the finish line.

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Submitted by Senator Roger Wicker