Senator John Thune visited Sean at WRAMC one afternoon. He took time to sit with him and discuss his medical issues, the battle we waged to receive proper care, and his treatment program at WRAMC's DHCC.
An aide appointed to escort Senator Thune around WRAMC told Sean how impressed he was that Senator Thune walked around freely, shaking hands and talking to soldiers without waiting for the escort to make formal introductions. He said Senator Thune took a genuine interest in each person he spoke with, unlike previous Senators and Representatives he had been assigned to escort.
The following was published after Sean's visit with Senator Thune.
A Salute to the Bravest
Senator Thune's Weekly Column
February 15, 2007
As Americans across the country pay tribute to some of our bravest citizens during National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans Week, I hope we can each renew our commitment to honoring our veterans and troops serving on the front lines today and every day of the year.
It is easy to take common freedoms we enjoy every day for granted--worshipping at church, learning at school, traveling on family vacations--but if we take a moment to consider the great sacrifices that have been made over the years to cement those daily freedoms, they take on much more meaning.
During National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans Week, I had the opportunity to visit with wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Hospital. Every time I have the chance to meet with these brave young men and women, I am moved by their hardships, humbled by their courage, and inspired by their level of commitment to this country and to freedom.
On this particular visit, I met with Sgt. Sean Johnson from Aberdeen. Sgt. Johnson is a member of the 452nd Ordnance Company. He is a young man each of us in South Dakota can be extremely proud of and grateful for his brave service.
I also met with soldiers from all over the country. Many of them have lost limbs and endured tragic injuries. What amazes me is that even after having been shaken by violence, terror, and trials, their resolve is unwavering. Many of them told me if they could physically go back to the front lines, they would. This kind of commitment and resolve is what makes America the greatest country in the world.
Today, more than 77,000 veterans call South Dakota home. In fact, South Dakota ranks 10th in the nation for our state veteran population.
In Congress, I have been committed to helping rural veterans like those in South Dakota, primarily by improving their access to quality health care. With the help of my colleague, Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO), we were able to establish a first-ever Office of Rural Health within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
I have also worked to pass legislation to improve the likelihood that a new VA Community-Based Outpatient Clinic could be located with the current Indian Health Service facility in Wagner. Aside from the VA clinic planned for Wagner, a new clinic may also soon be established in Watertown. I will continue to work with the VA to establish these new clinics as quickly as possible, because they will enhance health care services for veterans living in or near these communities.
I have also recently introduced legislation to automatically increase the annual cost of living adjustments (COLA) for veterans' disability compensation.
I will continue to work in Congress to implement policies and improvements so South Dakota veterans are receiving the best in care and benefits. This is the very least we can provide them after years of sacrifice and service.
In South Dakota, many of you will be reaching out to local veterans during National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans week, through volunteering, visiting, and sending get-well cards. The Sioux Falls VA Medical Center has plannned a series of events to pay special tribute to the veterans it cares for.
I encourage all South Dakotans to explore ways to show local veterans our appreciation year-round.