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The hero next door

by Randy Forbes

Heroes are around us every day. Take Buzz, for example.

Serving as an Army Chaplain during the Vietnam War, Basil “Buzz” Ballard drove his jeep roughly 25,000 miles in one year to hold 11 worship services a week for service members in combat zones. It was the height of the war, and once Buzz found himself targeted and ambushed by the Viet Cong. He got away unhurt, however, and continued serving and supporting the soldiers far away from home in Vietnam.

That was his first deployment. Buzz’ entire career in the U.S. Army spanned 25 years, carrying him across the country and around the world — including Ft. Hood, Texas; Ft. Lewis, Washington; Germany; and Hawaii, to name a few. During those years, Buzz served in multiple roles, from jail chaplain to hospital chaplain, providing support, counsel, and prayers for our men and women in uniform and their families. Buzz was awarded the Bronze Star “for going above and beyond the call of duty.”

Do you want to know something else about this American hero? He lives right around the corner. After retiring from the Army, Buzz served as the pastor of Windsor Christian Church for 12 years. Today, Buzz continues to call Windsor, Virginia “home.”

Buzz Ballard’s name may never be printed in the history books, but it is forever stamped in the hearts and minds of the men and women he served for 25 years. I’m proud of quiet American heroes like Buzz, who demonstrate for the rest of us what conviction and courageous dedication to duty look like. And I’m proud of what he represents: the countless other men and women in the line at the grocery store, pumping gas at the gas station, sitting next to us at church — the quiet heroes who sacrificed so much for so many years, that we might live in freedom.

We are grateful. But gratitude is not merely an emotion. Gratitude is an action word. It means working to provide veterans with the care they deserve. They did not wait to answer the call of duty; they should not have to wait to receive quality, timely medical care. Gratitude means supporting their families. It means helping our heroes find jobs. It means recognizing that while we can pay the men and women who wear this country’s uniform, we can never repay them. And gratitude means honoring the memories, telling the stories, saying thank you, reflecting on the heroes — right here at home — who served and fought for our freedom.

There is no question that, while we are a nation that is overwhelmingly grateful for our veterans’ service, our government has fallen short in its duty to support and serve those who served this country. Instead of providing the best our nation can offer, we see bureaucracy, backlogs, and blunders. But I believe Americans have a right to expect better from their government. That includes action steps like:

•Addressing the claims backlog at the VA. Until that happens and the backlog is cleared, VA employees should not be allowed to accept bonuses.

•Continuing to work to make quality care more accessible to our Veterans — building off the Veterans Choice Program.

•Refusing to place the burden of our fiscal challenges on the backs of our servicemembers; defense spending in support of our men and women in uniform is not the cause of our fiscal woes, and cutting the benefits earned by our brave service members is not the solution.

•Offering in-state tuition to our veterans regardless of where they live. The men and women who serve this nation did not just defend citizens of their own home states, but the citizens of all 50 states.

•Continuing to address post traumatic stress injuries. The number of veterans who have committed suicide or are homeless is a troubling factor that haunts far too many.

•Providing retirement pay and benefits as promised.

And perhaps, most importantly, we must make a commitment to asking ourselves — how can we better strengthen and empower our warriors after they return home? It’s a question that is constantly on my mind as I serve in Congress, work on legislation, and one that keeps me up at night. Defending our defenders has been, and will remain, one of my top priorities in the House of Representatives. Because how we treat our service members defines who we are as a nation.

At the end of the day, gratitude is about saying thank you — not just in words, but in actions. Whether it is a bill in Congress, a project by a community, or an act of recognition for the hero next door — it’s the least we can do for those who selflessly serve.

CONGRESSMAN RANDY FORBES represents Virginia’s Fourth District, which includes Suffolk, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Visit his website at forbes.house.gov.