A Champion for America’s Veterans
While serving in the U.S. Air Force, Major Charles “Chuck” McClead flew in more than 200 combat missions over Vietnam. In 1969, he was bravely serving as a navigator aboard a two-man fighter jet when his aircraft came under enemy fire. Major McClead courageously kept calm and guided his plane, and its pilot, to safety.
Like so many veterans, when Major McClead returned home, he tried to move on with his civilian life. He received a notification from the Department of Defense telling him that he had qualified for various medals in recognition of his service, but he put the paper away in a drawer – where it remained for more than 40 years.
In a new ad released today, Major McClead explains that, in 2019, he turned to Senator Susan Collins for assistance obtaining the long overdue medals that he had honorably earned, but never received. These awards included the Distinguished Flying Cross which, according to the U.S. Air Force, is “awarded to any officer or enlisted person of the armed forces of the United States” and “recognizes heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight.”
Senator Collins delivered for Major McClead. During a ceremony on Veterans Day in November 2019, Senator Collins presented Major McClead, who lives in Dedham, with America’s oldest military aviation award.
“She went to work for me like she does all of our veterans,” says Major McClead. “Susan Collins is out there fighting for us. Susan is a champion for our veterans.”
While growing up in Caribou, Senator Collins learned the true sacrifice that our service men and women and their families make to secure our country and protect all those who live here. Her father, Don, was a World War II veteran who was wounded at the Battle of the Bulge and earned two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star. Don would take his daughter to the town’s Memorial and Veterans Day parades where he would lift her onto his shoulders so she could watch as the town honored all those who served and all those who died serving our country.
And Senator Collins has never forgotten the great debt that we owe all our veterans. That is why she is a strong advocate for the more than 114,000 veterans who live in Maine and their families.
Senator Collins has worked to ensure our veterans have access to health care, she has held the Veterans Administration (VA) accountable, and she has fought to protect the benefits that our veterans have earned.
Senator Collins is improving access to quality health care for veterans
As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Collins led efforts to implement and extend the Project ARCH (Access Received Closer to Home) program and preserve rural veterans’ convenient access to care. This important and cost-effective program, and subsequent legislation, allow veterans in northern Maine to receive health care services closer to home rather than traveling hundreds of miles roundtrip to the Togus VA near Augusta.
Senator Collins has also worked to expand needed VA facilities and sponsored the Providing Veterans Overdue Care Act, which led to the construction of a new Community-Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) in Portland and allows veterans better access to high-quality health care.
In addition, Senator Collins has increased funding for mental health services and suicide prevention and to expand access to mental and behavioral health specialists for servicemembers, including National Guard and Reserve personnel. She has worked to increase funding for VA’s State Veterans Home Construction Grant program which resulted in a $50 million grant to help build a new Maine Veterans’ Home in Augusta.
Senator Collins is supporting veterans and military families in need
Senator Collins strongly supported the VA Mission Act, which became law in 2018, and provides veterans with greater access to health care, strengthens VA’s ability to recruit, hire, and retain quality medical personnel, and expands caregiver assistance benefits to veterans of all generations. She personally championed the years-long effort to expand VA caregiver benefits.
As Chairman of the Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Collins fought the Administration to ensure funding for HUD-VASH vouchers to combat veteran homelessness, which has declined by nearly half since 2008.
Most recently, Senator Collins led the bipartisan effort to repeal the so-called “widow’s tax,” which once and for all repealed the offset of the Department of Defense and VA survivor benefits. This unfair offset prevented more than 65,000 military survivors from receiving about $11,000 per year.
Senator Collins is working to ensure education and employment opportunities for veterans
Senator Collins cosponsored the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which expands the educational benefits that our nation offers to those who have served and permits those benefits to be transferred to spouses and dependents. In 2007, Senator Collins sponsored the Total Force GI Bill, which was designed to enhance educational benefits for members of the Reserves and the Guard and became law the following year.
Senator Collins also successfully changed the law to allow federal agencies to participate in Defense Department skills training, apprenticeship, and internship programs for military members transitioning to civilian life, programs which previously were limited to just private employers.
Senator Collins has been recognized for her efforts to protect our veterans
Among the honors that Senator Collins has received for her work supporting our veterans is the prestigious “Congressional Award” from the Veterans of Foreign Wars which recognizes her long record of taking care of veterans. In addition, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation awarded Senator Collins its Congressional Caregiver Champion Award in recognition of her devotion to finding solutions to the most urgent concerns of our military and veteran caregivers.