ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Va., November 11, 2015 —
Americans must do more than simply recognize what veterans mean to the country one day a year, President Barack Obama said here today.
While it is right and proper to recognize veterans on Veterans Day, “our tributes will ring hollow if we stop there,” the president said after placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
“If tomorrow, after the parades and the ceremonies, we roll up the banners and sweep the veterans’ halls and go back to our daily lives, forgetting the bond between the service of our veterans and our obligations as citizens, then we will be doing a profound disservice to our veterans and to the very cause for which they serve,” he said.
Veterans Day “is also a reminder of all that they still have to give to our nation and our duty to them,” Obama said.
There are 21.5 million veterans today and the country is in the midst of a new wave of veterans, the president said. Since 9/11 more than a million service members have completed their military service and returned to civilian life. Each year another 200,000 transition to veteran status. The 9/11 generation -- tested in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- deserve the care they were promised, Obama said.
Matching 'Words With Deeds'
“The good news is that in recent years, we have made historic investments to boost the VA budget, expand benefits, offer more mental health care and improved care for our wounded warriors, especially those with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury,” the president said.
The disability claims backlog is slashed by nearly 90 percent. There has been tremendous progress in “reducing the outrage of veterans’ homelessness,” the president said. “Still, the unacceptable problems that we’ve seen, like long wait times and some veterans not getting the timely care that they need, is a challenge for all of us if we are to match our words with deeds.”
Despite the progress, Obama is not satisfied. “We are going to keep investing in the facilities and the physicians and the staff to make sure that our veterans get the care that you need when you need it,” he said. “That is our obligation, and we are not going to let up.”
Veterans also need the skills needed to compete for 21st century jobs. More than 1.5 million veterans and their families are using the post-9/11 G.I. Bill for education. “That’s why we worked to make sure that every state now provides veterans and their families with in-state tuition,” Obama said. “That’s why we're fighting to make it easier for our veterans to get the licenses and certifications to transition the outstanding skills they gained in the armed services to civilian jobs. That’s why we're helping more veterans and military spouses find jobs.”
Veteran unemployment is 3.9 percent – even lower than the national average, which is 5 percent.
Specialists, Leaders, Managers
Government alone can’t do it all, nor should it, the president said. “I realize that with less than 1 percent of Americans serving in uniform, the other 99 percent of folks don’t always see and appreciate the incredible skills and assets that our veterans can offer,” he said. “On this Veterans Day, here’s what I want every American to know. Our veterans are some of the most talented, driven, capable people on Earth.”
Leaders tested on the battlefield have no fear of making decisions in a corporation. Specialists using cutting edge technologies can apply those skills in the civilian sector. Veterans demonstrated the ability to adapt, and while primarily warriors, also have performed humanitarian work and recovery operations. “They've managed large-scale projects, they've learned how to work on teams, how to stay committed to a mission, how to solve seemingly intractable problems,” the president said. “They get stuff done, and they are selfless, and they are brave and they are qualified. And America needs folks who know how to get stuff done.”
Service members who come home are not done serving. They are the ones volunteering for Scout troops or service organizations or at religious institutions.
“Our veterans are moms and dads, they are teachers and doctors, engineers and entrepreneurs, social workers and community leaders,” he said. “They are serving in statehouses across the country, they are serving in Congress. You’ve got a proud veteran, retired Navy Captain Scott Kelly, commander of the International Space Station, who is up there right now.”
The president pointed out the journey of one veteran -- Jennifer Madden. “Jen joined the army at 17 years old. She wanted to be just like her grandpa, a Korean War veteran,” he said. “Her very first day of basic training was September 11, 2001.”
Madden deployed to Afghanistan where she pulled security details during attacks, and lost friends. “When she came home she tried to get back into her old life but she found she simply couldn't stay focused in school or at work,” the president said. “She was struggling to relate to her family and her friends. Soon she was self-medicating and became homeless.
“Jen felt like she had lost her mission, her sense of purpose,” the president continued. “But then, thanks to an organization that connects veterans with therapists who donate their time, Jen was able to get counseling at no charge.”
The young veteran began dealing with her post-traumatic stress, and she put her life back together. Today, “Jen and the love of her life, Josh, are raising two beautiful children,” Obama said. “She is a licensed nurse. She works at a rehab facility helping folks who are just like her, including veterans, get back on their feet.”
Madden is also working with the Joining Forces initiative, sponsored by Michelle Obama and Jill Biden.
“I tell Jen’s story because, like all our brave men and women in uniform, Jen represents the best of who we are as a nation,” the president said. “She has sacrificed for us and has the scars – seen and unseen – that are part of that sacrifice. And she is an example of what is possible when we express our gratitude not just in words, not just on one day, but through deeds every day when we open our hearts and give hope to our returning heroes.”