U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio delivered a strong message Wednesday to veterans at American Legion Post 347.
“It doesn’t matter how many times you thank people for their service, you have to keep doing it because we are the beneficiaries of extraordinary freedoms that were not free,” the Republican senator from Miami said. “And it’s really important for future generations, in particular, to remember that.”
Rubio, who also has served as Speaker of Florida’s House of Representatives, made something else quite clear – he’s a huge fan of a $55 billion bill passed by the Senate earlier this month that will change how Veterans Affairs pays for private care. For some veterans, it will mean the ability to see a private doctor when the nearest VA facility is too far away or appointments aren’t available.
“It’s an option that should be available, but it shouldn’t be a substitute for them,” he said. “We have excellent VA facilities across this country, and we have a few that need to do better.”
Rubio said it’s extremely important to provide veterans with as many health care options as possible.
“There is the choice of a VA facility that’s relatively close and provides quality service,” he said, “but there’s also the option to go to a private facility if they think the care is better or more expeditious.”
The senator added that his reasons for visiting Post 347 were simple.
“This lodge is the largest in the country,” he said. “It has the largest membership and is growing, which is indicative of where the VA’s priorities should be focused in years to come – having facilities near where veteran populations might be growing.”
Rubio, whose brother was an Army Green Beret in Special Forces, said the opportunity to meet so many men and women who served their country was an honor.
“I think we can’t do it enough,” he said. “Up until the 1970s, every major conflict involved a whole society of contribution. Since then, because of the volunteer nature of our armed forces, we have a smaller percentage of our population assuming a greater percentage of the sacrifice of the conflicts.
“So it’s incumbent upon those of us who didn’t serve to ensure that we do all we can to remind our children and our future generations of the incredible sacrifices that young people have made throughout our history for our nation, its security and our freedom.”
Rubio said his message to today’s youth about the military is a simple and direct one.
“These men and women that are here and throughout the country were once their age,” he said. “They didn’t want to go to war any more than anybody else has ever wanted to go.
But their nation called them to it and they responded. Some lost their lives and many lost prime years of their youth in the service of their country. That needs to be honored.”
Rubio added that the United States would be a much different place if it wasn’t for the service of veterans over the years.
“It wouldn’t be free, that’s the most important part,” he said. “It wouldn’t be free and it would be a lot less safe.”
Lois Glosch, a Navy veteran who serves as the public relations chairperson for American Legion Auxiliary Unit 347, said Rubio’s visit should send a clear message to her fellow veterans.
“It means that someone cares,” she said. “The state of Florida is trying to do something to help us.”
Commander Al Varrone, an Air Force veteran, said he’s thrilled that Rubio took the time to visit.
“It’s important that we get the plight of a lot of our veterans, especially dealing with the VA, to the forefront. He’s the guy to do that,” Varrone said. “If we don’t tell them and show them what problems our folks are having, it will never get out.”
Varrone added that he was particularly thankful that Rubio spent time with his executive committee members before addressing and posing for photos with Legion members in the facility’s lounge.
“The senator confided in us that 30-something percent of all the cases that he deals with are with the VA,” he said. “So it was a good give-and-take.”
Another discussion also centered around school shootings and the role veterans can play in stopping that type of violence.
“The concern was that we have all these veterans teaching in these schools that have been qualified as marksmen. Yet when there’s an active shooter situation, they are hunkered down in a classroom with the lights out,” he said. “They’re helpless.”
All in all, Varrone added, Rubio’s visit was well-received and a huge success for Post 347.
“I am ecstatic with today,” he said. “I think it was a home run.”