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First Lady Notes VA’s Road of Change

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 20, 2009 – First Lady Michelle Obama expressed gratitude for Veterans Affairs employees and their dedication during a visit to the department today.

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First Lady Michelle Obama addresses Veterans Affairs employees at the agency's headquarters in Washington, Oct. 20, 2009. She emphasized to the employees, some of them who have more than 40 years of service with the agency, how critical their roles are as the administration works to make needed changes to VA programs. DoD photo by Samantha L. Quigley

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She also encouraged them not to waiver in their dedication to the country’s veterans.

“We are at the beginning of a long road of change, and we’re going to need every single one of you feeling the kind of passion and engagement when times are good and when times get tough,” Obama said.

Some of that change already has begun, she added.

On Oct. 22, Obama noted, the president will keep a campaign promise by signing into law the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act.

“After all, our veterans’ unwavering belief in this country is what inspired them to serve in the first place,” the first lady said. “They deserve our unwavering support in return. They deserve the care that they were promised, and they deserve the benefits that they earned.”

In addition, she noted, the budget the president submitted includes the largest single-year percentage increase in VA funding in three decades. The administration is expanding VA health coverage to 500,000 more veterans who previously had been denied, she added.

The number of veterans centers is growing as well, Obama said, as is the number of mobile health clinics, which will expand health care to rural areas.

“This administration put a new focus on the new care required for today’s wars – injuries like post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury,” she said. There also have been new commitments to ending homelessness among veterans – something she called a “moral outrage.”

The first lady also said she wanted to impress upon Veterans Affairs employees just how much she and the president value them.

“It’s just important for you to know that the president and I are proud of you, just as proud as we are of the men and women who serve this country, the people that you serve,” she said. “Many of you have been devoting your lives to this work. You’ve spent decades, especially the people who are standing behind me … working in the VA or working for the federal government longer than I’ve been alive.

“And we are grateful to all of you for your long service,” Obama said.

And that was the reason at the heart of her visit, she said.

“One of the reasons why I do this is because so often federal employees feel under-appreciated,” Obama said. “You often get a lot of the blame, but sometimes none of the thanks.

“My simple job is to say thank you, because the job that you do is a big one,” she added. “It’s huge, particularly for the men and women in uniform who serve or have served.”

Veterans Affairs Secretary Erik K. Shinseki said he was pleased to have the first lady pay his agency a visit.

“We’re so very proud to welcome our Lafayette Park neighbor to our house, here on Vermont Avenue,” he said. “Her commitment to the men and women who serve and have served to safeguard our way of life is everywhere evident. Her advocacy for the [servicemembers] and those who marched in their own time, our veterans, and all of their families, is clear, sincere and genuinely from deep in her heart.”

Before the first lady made her remarks, she spent time talking with hundreds of Veterans Affairs employees. Some of the longest-serving – at least one with 40-plus years of service – stood with her while she addressed the formal gathering.

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Michelle Obama
Erik K. Shinseki

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Department of Veterans Affairs

Click photo for screen-resolution imageFirst Lady Michelle Obama talks with Veterans Affairs employees after expressing her gratitude for their dedication to caring for the nation's veterans in Washington, Oct. 20, 2009. Before her formal remarks, she spoke with about 300 employees, listening to their comments and concerns. DoD photo by Samantha L. Quigley  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageVeterans Affairs Secretary Erik K. Shinseki introduces First Lady Michelle Obama to about 150 employees at the agency's headquarters in Washington, Oct. 20, 2009. Shinseki praised Obama for her sincerity and genuine concern for servicemembers, veterans and their families. DoD photo by Samantha L. Quigley  
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