TopVet: Michael Bilirakis, Congressman

Michael Bilirakis

Michael Bilirakis, Republican Congressman from Tarpon Springs in Florida’s 9th District, was first elected to Congress in 1982 and has been reelected to each succeeding Congress.

He is now chairperson of the Subcommittee on Health of the Energy and Commerce Committee, where he also serves as a member of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet and the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Mr. Bilirakis is also vice chairperson of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee and a member of the Oversight Subcommittee.

The congressional representative was born in Tarpon Springs during the Great Depression. He and his parents, immigrants from Greece, left the area shortly thereafter, moving to Clairton, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, where young Mike grew up. After high school, he passed up college scholarship offers to work in the steel mills to help support his family. He later enlisted in the Air Force and served for four years.

After leaving the military, Mr. Bilirakis studied engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. Upon graduating in 1959 with a B.S. degree in engineering, he began working with the Federal Power Commission in Washington, D.C. In 1961, Mr. Bilirakis returned to Florida with Evelyn, his wife of two years, and earned a law degree from the University of Florida two years later. He then worked in the aerospace industry as a contracts administrator responsible for the Centaur program, the booster rocket that placed the first unmanned spacecraft on the moon. In 1969, he opened his own law practice in Holiday, Florida, invested in land and small businesses, and taught several courses at local community colleges. Later, he accepted appointments as a county and a municipal judge.

In 1982, at the urging of friends, associates, and residents of the newly formed 9th, Mr. Bilirakis entered his first Congressional race. He credits strong traditional values, close family ties, and avid community involvement for his victories in 1982 and in subsequent reelections. In his terms in Congress, Mr. Bilirakis has become recognized as a national leader on health reform and on issues affecting seniors. Enactment of Congressman Bilirakis’ bill, the Children’s Health Act of 2000, was one of the top public health accomplishments of the 106th Congress.

In 1999, Mr. Bilirakis introduced legislation to provide prescription drug assistance to the poorest and sickest Medicare beneficiaries. President George W. Bush unveiled a similar proposal in January 2001 to give an "Immediate Helping Hand" to beneficiaries in greatest need.

Also in the 106th Congress, Mr. Bilirakis secured enactment of provisions he authored to allow certain severely disabled military retirees to collect "special compensation." He also introduced legislation to provide survivor benefits to the spouses of certain former prisoners of war, and similar provisions were enacted in 1999 as part of H.R. 2116, the Veterans’ Millennium Health Care Act. The new law allows the surviving spouse of a former POW to receive survivor benefits if the veteran was rated totally disabled for one year prior to his death.

In the 105th Congress, Mr. Bilirakis co-sponsored the VA Employment Discrimination Prevention Act, which provides employment discrimination protection for VA employees. He also introduced legislation to provide active and reserve "forgotten widows" with a minimum Survivor Benefit Plan annuity of $165 per month.

In the 104th Congress, his legislation to pro-rate veterans’ disability compensation checks to the day of death was expanded to allow their widows to keep the entire month’s check.

In recognition for his efforts on behalf of veterans, Congressman Bilirakis, who has held membership on the Congressional Task Force on POW/MIAs, has received the L. Mendel Rivers Award of Excellence from the Air Force Sergeants Association, the Inspirational Leadership Award from the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and the AMVETS Silver Helmet Award, among others.

Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Bilirakis

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