With thousands of brave men and women serving our country in two wars overseas, this Veterans Day is an important time to thank them, their families and all who have served for everything that they have sacrificed to protect our freedom.
To those of you who have served, are serving now or have loved ones who have stood up for our country, I want to personally thank each of you for all that you do. You inspire all of us to greatness with the example of your selfless service. It is thanks to your bravery and fierce patriotism that all Americans enjoy the greatest liberties and freedoms in the world. The sacrifices you make every day and your willingness to put your lives on the line should remind all of us that despite any political differences we might have, we all share one very important value we are all Americans. It is our pride in America, our freedoms, and our way of life that should unite us today and every day.
This is especially true in our little state. I have always said that West Virginia is the most patriotic state in the nation, because we have such a long tradition of service and so many West Virginians are or have been part of our armed services. We also have the best National Guard in the country; our National Guard members have taken on such an increasingly important role in keeping all of us safe, and I am working to make sure they can have a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. These citizen-soldiers not only sacrifice time away from their families and careers, but have also put their lives on the line for all of us.
Many of you know that as Governor, I made sure that veterans were a major priority for our state. We were the first state to create a bonus program for our veterans, and by the time I left the Governor's office, we paid more than 8,600 bonuses worth $4.8 million. We distributed vans to VA Medical Centers to make transportation easier for our veterans and established a rural outreach program for veterans suffering from PTSD, homelessness and traumatic brain injuries. Not only that every single county has a certified Veteran Service Officer to help with state and federal VA benefits.
In my new role in the U.S. Senate especially as a member of the Armed Services Committee with a voice on critical military issues keeping our promises to veterans remains one of my top priorities. When members of our National Guard were exposed to dangerous chemicals at Qarmat Ali in Iraq, I pushed to get them answers about what happened and help them get the care they need. I sponsored successful legislation to reduce fraud in small business contracting and improve disabled veterans' access to contracts. I also support measures to help our unemployed veterans get the training they need for jobs here at home.
I'm also proud to be able to host outreach meetings for veterans all across our state to make sure they are getting the services that they deserve and have earned. Earlier this year, I brought together state and federal officials from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the West Virginia Division of Veterans Affairs to join me in answering veterans' questions at forums throughout the state. I truly believe that the best way to keep our promises to our veterans is to hear their concerns and speak with them directly about the issues that are the most important to them. You can expect to see many more forums like these throughout the state during my term.
To all of our veterans, their families and all of our armed service members thank you again for all that you have done and for what you continue to do for this nation and the American people. While we can never repay you for your invaluable contributions to our country, I promise to remain committed to ensuring that your voice is heard and that we honor your service.
Above all, I ask all West Virginians to join me to take a moment to reflect and thank our veterans for their service and sacrifice to our country, and remembering those who lost their lives in defense of this country. For those serving today, we continue to pray for their safety and speedy return home to their families and the great state of West Virginia.
I salute our soldiers and our veterans, and sincerely thank them for their commitment and dedication toward protecting our great nation. It is because of you that we can proudly proclaim "Mountaineers Are Always Free."
God bless you, God bless West Virginia, God bless America and all our brave men and women in the military.