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By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 29, 2008 - President Bush called on Congress last night to reward the contributions servicemembers and their families make every day through better services and laws that let them share unused education benefits and give military spouses hiring preference for federal jobs.
Addressing both houses of Congress during his seventh annual State of the Union address, the president also urged passage of Dole-Shalala Commission recommendations to ensure wounded warriors receive the services they deserve.
The president acknowledged the great sacrifices military families make as their loved ones serve, and announced new proposals to show appreciation.
"Our military families also sacrifice for America. They endure sleepless nights and the daily struggle of providing for children while a loved one is serving far from home," Bush said. "We have a responsibility to provide for them. So I ask you to join me in expanding their access to child care, creating new hiring preferences for military spouses across the federal government, and allowing our troops to transfer their unused education benefits to their spouses or children."
Bush urged Congress to approve legislation that allows servicemembers to transfer unused Montgomery G.I. Bill benefits to their spouses and children. The G.I. Bill provides up to 36 months of education benefits to eligible veterans for college, technical or vocational courses and other job training. Currently, the Army is the only service that allows its members to transfer those benefits to their children.
The president said he wants all veterans to be able to transfer benefits they have earned to their spouses and children.
Bush also asked Congress to pass a bill creating new hiring preferences across the federal government for military spouses. Under current law, only veterans themselves are entitled to preferences over others in competitive hiring for federal government jobs.
"Our military families serve our nation, they inspire our nation, and tonight our nation honors them," he said.
The United States owes that same honor to its veterans, Bush said, particularly those wounded in the war on terror.
He urged Congress to enact reforms recommended by the President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors to ensure they are able to "build lives of hope, promise and dignity."
The president created the commission in March to conduct a comprehensive review of the services returning wounded warriors receive. The commission, co-chaired by former Sen. Bob Dole and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala -- both of whom attended tonight's address -- released its findings in July.
Some of the commission's recommendations have been put into effect already, but others require legislative action. Measures already taken or in the works include:
-- Hiring of the first federal recovery coordinators to help guide wounded servicemembers through their recuperation;
-- Establishment of a pilot program establishing a single comprehensive disability exam to replace separate exams in the Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs;
-- Creation of a new National Center of Excellence for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury in the Washington, D.C., area;
-- Efforts to create a single Web portal so wounded servicemembers and veterans can track their medical and recovery records, get information and apply for benefits and services;
-- Proposed regulations to update the disability schedule for traumatic brain injury and burns; and
-- Use of special authorities to retain the best health professionals working at Walter Reed Army Medical Center until it closes.
The president said he remains committed to the well-being of America's men and women in uniform and is keeping his commitment to provide for veterans.
"America is a force for hope in the world because we are a compassionate people, and some of the most compassionate Americans are those who have stepped forward to protect us," he said. "We must keep faith with all who have risked life and limb so that we might live in freedom and peace."