Thank you very much, David [Chu, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness].
Thank you, Chairman [John] Warner [Senate Armed Services Committee], for joining us this afternoon. Thank you, General [Peter] Pace [Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff], Lynn Pace. Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps [John L.] Estrada is with us. Sergeant [First Class Kevin] Walker and Mrs. [Patti] Walker, thanks for coming from Fort Riley.
I sense a real spirit in this cold tent outdoors. Some of you people are so enthusiastic -- I think it is a powerful message about the importance of what we're gathered here today to get launched.
Everyone who visits wounded soldiers -- whether at Walter Reed, at Bethesda, at Landstuhl, or military hospitals around the country and around the world -- comes away always invariably inspired by the determination and courage with which our wounded soldiers confront the reality of their injuries. Over and over I hear people say that they went to a hospital to lift the morale of the wounded soldiers and they came away with their own morale lifted sky high. I know that's been true with me over and over and over again.
I think we all, those of us who were in this category of so-called distinguished visitors, feel slightly embarrassed when the wounded thank us for visiting, because we are the ones who are truly grateful. In fact, there is really no way to adequately express our gratitude to these Americans who are every bit as great as the ones that have been properly called the members of "the Greatest Generation." These Americans in our generation have done so much to make our country safer and the world a better and more peaceful place.
One way we can express our gratitude is by working to make sure that the Department of Defense, the U.S. Government, and the American people as a whole do everything we can to enable these heroes to recover from their injuries and rebuild their lives.
In Afghanistan and in Iraq we've seen advances in medical care that are nothing short of miraculous. From body armor that has saved countless lives, to incredibly effective field hospitals, to evacuation flights that so far -- thankfully -- have managed to keep every wounded soldier alive while en route to hospitals in Europe and elsewhere, to incredible advances in prosthetic devices and rehabilitation techniques.
Our wounded warriors have the benefit of the very best that 21st century medicine can provide. They also benefit from an unbelievably committed team of medical caregivers -- nurses, doctors, evacuation teams, and physical and occupational therapists -- men and women whose incredible dedication to their patients is a reflection of the genuine love they have for them and their appreciation for their service. Often, these medical caregivers have to go into harm's way themselves to save lives.
Unfortunately, when our wounded veterans have to encounter the bureaucracy that deals with issues of medical disability, active duty status, family visits, benefits, and all those kinds of issues, they encounter rules that often seem to be relics of the last century -- of World War II, when most of our wounded were single young men without families and when our ability to assist the severely wounded in rehabilitation was woefully much more limited.
The administrators who work in these bureaucracies are no less committed to the care of our wounded than are the medical caregivers. But we need to give those administrators up-to-date tools to work through what often seems to be a bureaucratic maze. Even better, we need to reform the system itself so the rules become more user-friendly and the mazes easier to navigate.
A great deal of work in that direction has already been accomplished in the individual Services. And the purpose of this OSD office is to assist them in being even more effective by providing an additional resource, a 24/7 service center staffed by a team of people who are trained to answer questions, with an 800 -- I guess it's an 888 number -- to advise wounded soldiers and their families of the benefits that are available to them, to help them access those resources, and to find solutions to problems.
This will enable the Services and other agencies to concentrate their efforts on delivering that assistance, ensuring that our severely wounded soldiers and their families receive seamless support throughout their recovery, through their rehabilitation and transition process, and making certain that no one is left behind, no one is short of needed resources, no one is left without a place to which they can turn for assistance.
We want to make certain that our heroes are properly assisted -- not only in their immediate recovery, but in making the sometimes difficult transition back into the community and a productive life.
When President Bush spoke to the Marines at Camp Pendleton back in December, he said, and I quote, "One of America's greatest blessings is the men and women who wear our nation's uniform."
"And," he added, "America will show the same sense of duty. We will provide the best possible medical care to any American servicemember wounded in action."
The President’s promise is a reminder of the famous words that greet visitors to the Veterans Affairs building near the White House. The plaque there reads simply: "to care for him who shall have borne the battle." Those are words from Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, and those words summarize our responsibility and our intentions here today.
It is something that we owe to the men and women who have already given so much of themselves for us, for our country, and for the freedom of millions. This new center will help to fulfill that pledge by helping to bridge the gap between intentions, good intentions and results.
We want to thank everyone who has helped to make this center possible, the staff who will handle the phones and the help desk, and all of you for your support of our troops and for turning out on a cold day like today on such short notice. Both Secretary Rumsfeld and I look forward to working with all of you in the future on behalf of America's heroes.
Thank you for coming here today. May God bless all of our heroes, and may God continue to bless the United States of America. Thank you.