PNC Paul Warner presenting Representative Gus Bilirakis with a certificate of appreciation.


Rep. Gus Bilirakis’s Speech at the 123rd Annual Convention

It is a pleasure to be here with you today. Before I begin, I would like to welcome Secretary Wilkie to the Tampa Bay area and to his new position. I have enjoyed working with him in the past, and look forward to continuing to build upon that relationship in order to benefit our nation’s heroes.

That is my primary mission in the United States Congress—serving those who have served our nation.

It is wonderful to see so many of you come together — united in your faith– to promote Americanism, preserve the spirit of comradery, instill a love of country and service in others, advocate for your fellow Veterans, and honor the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country.

First and foremost, I want to thank each of you for your service. I want you to know that I understand the price of freedom is not free, it is paid by men and women like you—those who have bravely defended our country and the sacred ideals we cherish.

Sadly, some of these heroes never return and others live with wounds, both visible and invisible, that they carry with them throughout their lives. Families of our Veterans also pay a high price so that all of us may enjoy the blanket of security our military provides.

So, it is not enough to recognize your service with a simple thank you – but rather we must continuously seek ways to honor your service and sacrifice.

As Vice-Chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives, I have made it a priority to ensure that our Veterans receive the best possible care and all of the benefits they have earned through their dutiful service to our nation.

We have made significant progress in recent years, but there is still more work to be done. I would like to take a moment to share some of the highlights of our work in this area.

A total of 26 bills that will improve the lives of Veterans have been signed into law since January of 2017.

Improving access to care and benefits within a timely manner continues to be a priority. Our work to finally rectify the injustice that kept Blue Water Navy Veterans from accessing care and benefits due to their Agent Orange exposure is something that will make a tangible difference in the lives of so many Veterans. The Senate must take immediate action, as these Veterans cannot afford to wait any longer.

Speaking of waiting, with half a million Veterans waiting on a VA decision about their disability claims as of 2017, modernizing the appeals process for disability claims was extremely important. It has been a year since this critical legislation was signed into law. I believe we still have more work to do in this area because, in my opinion, Veterans are still waiting way too long, however, this law is a huge step in the right direction.

The MISSION Act is another important victory for Veterans who were struggling to navigate the VA CHOICE and community care programs. This new law ensures Veterans receive timely and convenient access to care, whether through the VA or a community provider – a decision which will be made by the Veteran and his or her doctor.

Improving Educational Benefits for Veterans has been another important theme for our Committee. Through the Forever GI Bill, we expanded educational benefits and removed the time restriction for use.

House and is awaiting Senate action, will also ensure Veterans are not penalized when a bureaucracy delays processing of the GI payment.

Ensuring accountability and oversight of the VA is one of the primary functions of our committee. The VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which was signed into law one year ago helps achieve this goal by streamlining the process of firing or disciplining senior VA employees while expanding protections for employees who report wrong doing.

One additional measure that is very near and dear to my heart is the Transition Improvement Act, which passed the House the end of July. As you know, we spend a minimum of six months preparing service personnel for their military assignments and a maximum of one week preparing them for successful reintegration into civilian society.

We owe these brave more than that, and local Veterans in my community who were able to provide direct input into this bill, tell me that this is one of the most serious challenges currently facing the men and women who are exiting the military. I am hopeful that the Senate will take action on this important issue.

Our committee will not rest until Veterans have access to high quality care and the benefits they have earned.

For me personally, I am focused on ensuring Veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits during their service in the middle east, and as a result are suffering illness and disease have access to medical care and disability benefits they need. This is the agent orange of our era –and we have to learn lessons from the mistakes that were made and the countless Veterans that suffered and died while the government took decades to do right by our heroes. We cannot let that happen again, which is why I have filed legislation to address this issue immediately.

I also want to provide you with a brief update about this year’s National Defense Authorization Act. It reflects a real win not only for active duty military personnel and Veterans, but for all Americans who can have great confidence that this legislation will make our nation safer. The bill supports necessary increases in topline funding to support our troops and readiness recovery.

As part of the rebuilding of the military, it increases the size of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Naval and Air Reserve, as well as Air Guard, in accordance with the full request by Secretary Mattis.

It allocates funding to provide the largest pay raise for our troops in nine years, begins to rehabilitate and replace worn out equipment, starts overcoming the crisis in military aviation by putting more aircraft in the air, restores America’s strength at sea, makes critical investment in missile defense and nuclear deterrents, allows key investments in other critical military capabilities to confront aggression, and address threats around the world, including those from Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran.

It also protects the United States from malicious technology from Chinese companies like ZTE and Huawei by banning those companies from doing business with the United States Government or any entity that does business with the United States Government.

Additionally, it advances innovative technologies that will reform the way our nation will fight and win wars.

Finally, it includes language I authored which extends the travel benefit of riding on military aircraft, whenever there is space available- to those Veterans who are 100% disabled. This is something that is currently only enjoyed by active duty and military retirees.

President Truman once said that “America was not built on fear.  America was built on courage, imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”

I would qualify that statement…it is the courage and unwavering determination of men and women, like you, who answered the call to serve who made and continue to make our country great.

We all owe you and your families a debt of gratitude that can never be fully repaid; however, I renew my pledge that I will continue to serve as your voice in Washington and to always ensure that my actions and record of service reflect my heartfelt gratitude for your service.

Thank you. May God Bless you and continue to Bless the United States of America.

Volume 72. Number 3. Fall 2018

By Jerry Alperstein

Purim was celebrated at the Manhattan VA Medical Center [VAMC] on Purim morning, March 1, with the reading of the Purim Megillah, live Purim music by the MazelTones and hamentashen.  The event was organized by VAMC Jewish Chaplain Rabbi Andrew Scheer and was sponsored by Jewish War Veterans [JWV] Manhattan-Cooper-Lieutenant Colonel Larry Epstein-Florence Greenwald Post 1, the oldest veterans echelon in the United States.

The Megillah reading has been an annual occurrence at the VAMC for many decades.  JWV has been sponsoring the event for approximately the last 15 years by providing the Megillah books, the groggers and the hamentashen.  Approximately 25 people attended the Megillah reading, which included Post 1 members and patrons as well as VAMC staff and patients.  Among JWV members and patrons attending were National Executive Committee member Jerry Alperstein, Sara Alperstein, Seymour Beder, Jonah Berman, Michael Henken, Robert Iskowitz, Mitchell Mernick, Harold Schaeffer, Simon Spiegelman and JWV Department of New York Hospital Committee Chair Mort Weinstein.  The Megillah reader was David Waxman, a member of our community.

Following the Megillah reading, five flavors of hamentashen [apricot, chocolate, mango, pomegranate and raspberry] were served while two members of the MazelTones of New York Band, including Jerry Alperstein on trumpet, performed Purim music.   Among the VAMC staff attending from the Chaplaincy Department in addition to Rabbi Scheer were Chaplain Elizabeth Putnam and Chaplain Intern Harold Ng.  After the hamentashen eating and Purim music were completed, a Post 1 meeting was held at the VA including the election and installation of officers for the 2018-2019 year.

Volume 72. Number 1. Spring 2018

On August 11th, an estimated 100 white supremacists marched through the University of Virginia (UVA) campus with their tiki torches full of citronella and their hearts filled with hate.  They were recorded shouting racist, anti-Semitic Nazi slogans – such as “Blood and Soil” and “Jews will not replace us”.

The next day, counter protesters showed up to face the over 4,000 white supremacists who were gathered.  The situation devolved into one of the saddest days for American democracy.  Citizens were beating each other bloody, and the National Guard was ultimately called in after a State of Emergency was enacted in Virginia.  While the crowds were dispersing, a white supremacist plowed his car into a group of counter protesters – this terrorist act killed 1 and left injured 19.

This is not America.  The United States of America is the land of liberty, and to quote George Bernard Shaw said, “liberty means responsibility – that is why most men dread it.”  When people are using hate in your name, you have the responsibility to call them out and tell them this is not what you stand for.  When you are a part of one of the worst displays of anarchy in this nation’s recent history, you are responsible for your action or lack thereof.

It is important to remember that this is not the first time America has seen Nazi symbols marching through her streets.  In the 1930’s, Nazi sympathizers, called Bunds, would proudly hold rallies, assemble youth camps and march through the streets of our nation.  The Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. (JWV) were the first to see that this hate has no place in America.  We organized over 10,000 members to march through the streets of New York, an event that ended up on the front page of every major newspaper.

After that parade, “Hitler and his cohorts were made to see that America was aroused – that Americans would not stand for atrocities and injustices against any minority people.”  Today, the white supremacists must be made to see that there is no place for their hatred in our society.

It is also important to remember that these white supremacists were 4,000 people out 360 million citizens of America, and they are by no means the majority.    Even so, JWV remains committed to taking a strong active role against the growing white supremacist movement.  JWV members have been in contact with the UVA Hillel, supporting them within our means.  We remain vigilant within our own communities, and will help in any way if called upon.

“Today the JWV continues to stand firmly against hatred.  We call upon all elected officials at all echelons of government to clearly speak out against White Supremacists, Neo-Nazi’s and their fellow travelers,” stated National Commander Carl Singer.

On July 26, 2017, President Trump announced in a series of tweets that transgender troops would no longer be allowed to serve in the military – saying the U.S. military “would not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”

Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. stands for respecting all individuals without regard to race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.  We remain committed to supporting all are troops no matter their background.  Those that serve honorably deserve the same respect and honor as any other member of the Armed Forces.

We advise that the President work with his Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense to develop a policy that supports factual analysis and has respect for the individuals who have served our nation proudly.  We believe that by listening to wise council, the President will be able to make the right decision that supports our troops and ensures our national security.

“Echoing what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has said…and to quote a former office mate of mine, the late Army General Maxwell R. Thurman, ‘be all you can be.’  We intend for the U.S. military to employ our nation’s best and brightest in protecting our country and upholding the values of the American people.  Permitting qualified individuals from all backgrounds serves this goal,” says JWV National Commander COL Carl A. Singer.

On July 11th, Representative Garret Graves (R-LA) introduced a modified amendment to Section 632 on the Military Patron Act (HR 2810).  The amendment mandates that the DoD will submit a “cost-benefit analysis” on commissaries in order to reduce the costs of operating the commissaries and exchanges by 2 billion dollars over the next four years, while not raising costs for patrons.

Commissaries and Exchanges provide food and other necessary house hold items that are needed on a day to day basis for service members, their family and veterans.  Commissaries started back in 1825 when Army soldiers could purchase household items from an on-post store at the cost of the item.  Since then, this tradition has lived on – helping our service members provide for themselves and their families.

Commissaries still provide at cost products to our service members today, which is still a much needed provision.  An Army private with a family of four makes less than $2000 a month.  To make those dollars work for them, they rely on services like the Commissaries and Exchanges to provide for their family.

Although the amendment calls for a review of the services and asks for the DoD to make recommendation, the DoD has historically called for dismantling whole institutions as they have done with Military Medical Treatment Facilities and the Base Realignment and Closure Acts.  JWV calls on members of Congress to make sure that our Commissaries and Exchanges remain open to our veterans, service members and their families.

“JWV deplores the lack of support for our service members as demonstrated by the wrangling over Commissary and Exchange operations.  Despite the assertions that we need and must have a strong military we see measures that harm our service members and their families.  Do we again want to see junior enlisted service members applying for food stamps and other government aid for their families,” said National Commander Carl Singer.