Celebrate All of Our Veterans This Independence Day

On this Independence Day weekend, as you celebrate our nation’s freedom, I ask that you also give thanks for our wartime allies. Many veterans can point to a moment when one of these allies saved our lives or the lives of our fellow Americans – often by taking up arms against our common enemies. They acted because they believed in America, in our mission, and in the promise that was given.

On Sunday, the Sacramento Bee, published a series of articles that examines the practical application of that promise. Its verdict: America isn’t keeping its promise.

Take the case of Abdul Farhad Ghafoori.

“Abdul misses the sense of purpose he felt in war…[He] earns $10 an hour for working from 8:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. During the day, he watches his son and daughter so his wife can attend English class. He’s also looking for a better-paying job with health care. His family’s one-bedroom apartment on the second story of a building on Bell Street is dark and gloomy, facing a brick wall and a chain-link fence, but it’s better than the first-floor apartment where he and his family were resettled upon their arrival in August 2015. Their first night, they were besieged by roaches and bedbugs. His crying children were left covered with inflamed red bites.”

I run a non-profit called No One Left Behind. I founded it with my brother Janis, the Afghan translator who saved my life. Our organization helps our wartime allies in Afghanistan and Iraq acquire the Special Immigrant Visas they’ve earned through service to our country. We welcome them at the airport, find them a place to live, furnish their homes for free, buy them a car, and find them a job and a mentor to help guide them as they join our country. We are desperate to open a chapter in Sacramento – we estimate there are 7,000 Afghans in need of our aid there – to ensure that what happens to Abdul never again to another of our veterans. That’s why No One Left Behind exists – to ensure we keep America’s promise to all of her veterans.

And make no mistake about it – our translators are as much of a veteran as I am. The only difference between me and Janis, my translator, is that I won the birth lottery. I did one tour of duty, was injured and can go to the VA for health care. Then there’s my brother Janis, who spent eight years in combat on the front lines, saving the lives of five Americans, and he doesn’t get to go to the VA and get help for the six times he was blown up.

Recently, Congress failed to keep that promise. For the first time in four years, Congress chose not to authorize any additional visas for Afghans. What kind of message have we sent to the Afghans currently serving alongside the nearly 10,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan? We fear that it conveys that America has abandoned them, and in kind, they are now free to abandon our forward deployed troops. What incentive would any Afghan or other ally have to cooperate with and serve alongside the U.S. military? Congressional inaction is putting our military at risk in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Thankfully, Senators Shaheen (D-NH) and McCain (R-AZ) and Representatives Kinzinger (R-IL), Blumenauer (D-OR), and Moulton (D-MA) – our tireless champions on the Hill – are not done fighting. At the urging of Senator Shaheen, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted unanimously to approve an additional 4,000 visas for Afghans (to be issued over the coming years). While its not yet law, we hope the Congress will pass the program swiftly – as experts expect the State Department to run out of visas by then end of the year.

Since our founding in October 2013, the American people have helped us resettle over 2,000 people – veterans and their families who now live freely in the country they helped defend. On our Independence Day, I ask that you give a moment to thank them and all of our veterans – for without their service and sacrifice, none of us would be free.

Happy Independence Day!

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