Ernst: Fighting for those who faithfully served

As published in Quad City Times

I grew up in southwest Iowa on my parent’s farm. Our parents instilled in me the importance of hard work -- and when our work was done, we would go help a neighbor who might be in need. This story is not unique.
Here in Iowa, we work hard for everything we have and then help members of our community when they need it.
In between my freshman and sophomore years in college, I went on an agricultural exchange to Ukraine. In the evenings, we did not discuss agriculture as I had expected. Instead, the Ukrainians wanted to know what it was like to be free. They wanted to know what it was like to be an American.
On my flight home, I thought about how often we take those liberties for granted. It was then that I came to the realization that I wanted to do my part to protect our freedoms. As a result, I joined the Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps, commonly known as ROTC. While in the ROTC, I set a goal to become a company commander and lead soldiers.
Years later, I had the extraordinary honor of doing just that: serving as company commander. It was a hard experience, but it was also a great experience. My soldiers and I deployed soon after, running convoys through Kuwait and southern Iraq. Together, we went down that road and experienced the same hardships and successes as one.
I had the incredible opportunity of serving with these mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, daughters and sons. We returned home with the exact number we left with. The hard part was over, or so we thought.
Unfortunately, in many cases, the difficulties only begin for many women and men when they return home from war. And, too often, the invisible wounds of war go unnoticed.
Our men and women have selflessly sacrificed in defense of our freedoms, and our way of life. But the next step is ensuring our veterans are prepared to transition back to civilian life when their service is over. All too often, our nation fails to deliver the care our veterans need and deserve.
Today, about 20 veterans commit suicide each day. In fact, our female veterans commit suicide at six times the rate of non-military females. Not only is this a tragedy, but it is a reality we cannot accept and must urgently address. We took a step in the right direction this summer when the president signed my bipartisan legislation into law to require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to identify the most effective programs and approaches in reducing suicide rates among female veterans. This bill, the Female Veterans Suicide Prevention Act will help us better understand the cause for these shocking suicide rates and help provide a better path forward to ensure they receive the mental health care they deserve.
Our veterans fought for us and endured more than some of us can ever imagine. Now it is our turn to stand up for America’s tenacious survivors.
This Veterans Day, and every day, let us take time to reflect on the unimaginable sacrifices our veterans have made, and let us renew our commitment to fighting for our veterans until they receive the timely and quality care of which they are worthy.