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Mrs. Obama, Dr. Biden Praise Troops, Vets, Families

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 28, 2009 – The wives of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden praised servicemembers, veterans and their families today during a visit to a Veterans Affairs hospital in New York City.

Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden spoke at the James J. Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx hours before the scheduled start of the 2009 World Series at nearby Yankee Stadium. Major League Baseball is dedicating Game 1 of the Series in support of “Welcome Back Veterans,” an MLB Charities initiative designed to support returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families with mental health treatment and job opportunities.

“One of the first events Michelle and I did together just about a year ago was a roundtable with military spouses,” Biden said in her introduction of the first lady. “We have worked together since then to understand the issues faced by our soldiers and their families while they are deployed and when they return home. We have been truly overwhelmed by the courage of our men and women in uniform and inspired by the dignity and sense of patriotism that our military families exhibit every day.”

Noting Major League Baseball’s decision to salute servicemembers, veterans and their families in conjunction with the opening of this year’s Fall Classic, Biden called on all Americans to do the same.

“There is a role for each and every one of us in supporting our military families,” she said. “We are asking all Americans to take action and show their thanks through simple acts of kindness to these families and our veterans.

“As a military mom,” she continued, “I know how a simple act of kindness can make a difference to a soldier, whether it's troop greeters who are meeting our troopers coming back, a neighbor offering to baby-sit, or a classroom adopting a unit. It is our sacred duty to honor the service of those who sacrifice for our country -- and we can all play a role with a simple act of service. I hope that the millions of viewers watching tonight's game will join us in this effort.”

Obama said she visited VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki and the department’s headquarters staff last week to underscore the importance of their mission and to thank them and VA staff members across the nation for their service.

“And I know that many of you are veterans yourselves -- the people who work at the VA, the people who work at facilities like this -- and your work couldn't be more important,” she said.

The first lady said today’s visit underscores the fact that for many of the nation’s warriors, the battle continues even after they come home.

“But when I talk with these brave men and women, they speak less about themselves and more about the stress that their sacrifice puts on their families who live each day without them and hold everything together in their absence,” she said. “That's all these folks think about and worry about. As a nation, we have a responsibility to honor their service by doing everything we can to support our servicemen and women, our veterans, and their families.”

Obama pointed out that the president signed legislation into law today that gives the family members of wounded veterans federal family leave protection so they can care for their loved ones without losing their jobs. “But providing our military and their families with the support they deserve requires far more than government can do, as Jill pointed out,” she added. “It requires all of us to be very active in this effort.”

Business owners, big or small, can help returning servicemembers, veterans or their spouses by helping them get or keep a job, she noted, or people with professional skills can provide their services free to military families who need assistance. But everyday people can help too, the first lady said, by doing things as simple as offering to drive a carpool, baby-sit or make a meal.

“Just so many small things can really make the difference and make sure that our veterans and our men and women in uniform know that we care and that we're thinking about them,” she said.

But above all, Obama added, people can simply say, “Thank you,” and she expressed the hope that a public service announcement to be shown at the ballpark and during the World Series telecast would hit its mark.

“Each and every one of us is living in a community that has some family who has been touched in some way,” she said. “They're in our schools, in our churches. They're walking through the streets at the grocery store. Sometimes they're easily identified, sometimes they're not. But as Jill said, part of why we're here is that we want to urge all Americans who … get a chance to see our PSA, hear the sound of our voices, to never forget that these folks have made sacrifices. And we owe for what they've done for us.”

In pregame ceremonies at Yankee Stadium tonight, the nation’s first and second ladies are scheduled escort Yankees legend and World War II veteran Yogi Berra and Tony Odierno, who will be throwing out the first pitch.

Odierno, a U.S. Military Academy graduate who lost his left arm during the war in Iraq, earned the Bronze Star with valor and a Purple Heart and now works for the Yankees in stadium operations. Odierno's father is Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Force Iraq.

"We are looking forward to welcoming the first lady and Dr. Biden to Yankee Stadium and Game 1 of the 2009 World Series," said Baseball Commissioner Allan H. “Bud” Selig. "We hope their presence at both the game and the hospital visit will be an inspiration to the veterans who proudly served our country. The support for welcomebackveterans.org, an incredibly important initiative for Major League Baseball, will make a difference as we look to help today's veterans and military families with their transition back to civilian life."

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