President Barack Obama
Remarks to the
113TH National Convention
of the Veterans of
VFW Convention Hall
July 23, 2012
[White House Transcript]
12:35 P.M. PDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much.
Please, please, everybody have a seat.
Commander DeNoyer, thank you for your
introduction, and your service in Vietnam and on behalf of America's
veterans. I want to thank your executive director, Bob Wallace;
next commander, who I look forward to working with, John
Hamilton. And to Gwen Rankin, Leanne Lemley, and the entire
Auxiliary, thank you for your patriotic service to America.
I stand before you as our hearts still ache
over the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado. Yesterday I was in Aurora,
families whose loss is hard to imagine -- with the wounded, who are
fighting to recover; with a community and a military
base in the midst of their grief. And they told me of the loved
they lost. And here today, it's fitting to recall those who wore
Staff Sergeant Jesse
Childress -- an Air Force reservist, 29 years old, a cyber specialist
who loved sports, the kind of guy, said a friend, who'd help anybody.
Petty Officer Third
Class John Larimer -- 27 years old, who, like his father and
grandfather before him, joined the Navy, and who is remembered as an
Rebecca Wingo -- 32
years old, a veteran of the Air Force, fluent in Chinese, who served as
a translator; a mother, whose life will be an inspiration to her two
And Jonathan Blunk --
from Reno, just 26 years old, but a veteran of three Navy tours, whose
family and friends will always know that in that theater he gave his
own life to save another.
These young patriots
were willing to serve in faraway lands, yet they were taken from us
here at home. And yesterday I conveyed to their families a
behalf of all Americans: We honor your loved ones.
We salute their service. And as you summon the strength to carry
and keep bright their legacy, we stand with you as one united American
Veterans of Foreign
Wars, in you I see the same shining values, the virtues that make
America great. When our harbor was bombed and fascism was on the
march, when the fighting raged in Korea and Vietnam, when our
country was attacked on that clear September morning, when our forces
were sent to Iraq -- you answered your country’s call. Because
know what Americans must always remember -- our nation only endures
because there are patriots who protect it.
In the crucible of
battle, you were tested in ways the rest of us will never know.
carry in your hearts the memory of the comrades you lost. For you
understand that we must honor our fallen heroes not just
on Memorial Day, but all days. And when an American goes missing,
is taken prisoner, we must do everything in our power to bring them
Even after you took
off the uniform, you never stopped serving. You took care of each
other -- fighting for the benefits and care you had earned. And
taken care of the generations that followed, including
our newest veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. On behalf of all
men and women in uniform, and on behalf of the American people, I want
to thank you, VFW. Thank you for your outstanding work.
Of course, some among
you -- our Vietnam veterans -- didn’t always receive that thanks, at
least not on time. This past Memorial Day, I joined some of you
Wall to begin the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam
War. And it was another chance to say what should have been said
along: You did your duty, and you made us proud. And as
anniversary continues, I’d ask all our Vietnam vets to stand, or raise
your hand, as we say: Thank you and welcome home.
Every generation among
you served to keep us strong and free. And it falls to us, those
follow, to preserve what you won. Four years ago, I stood before
at a time of great challenge for our nation. We
were engaged in two wars. Al Qaeda was entrenched in their safe
in Pakistan. Many of our alliances were frayed. Our
standing in the
world had suffered. We were in the worst recession of our
Around the world, some questioned whether the
United States still had the capacity to lead.
So, four years ago, I
made you a promise. I pledged to take the fight to our enemies,
renew our leadership in the world. As President, that’s what I’ve
done. (Applause.) And as you reflect on recent years,
as we look ahead to the challenges we face as a nation and the
leadership that’s required, you don’t just have my words, you have my
deeds. You have my track record. You have the promises I’ve made
the promises that I’ve kept.
I pledged to end the war in Iraq honorably, and that’s what we’ve
(Applause.) After I took office, we removed nearly 150,000 U.S.
troops from Iraq.
said that bringing our troops home last year was a mistake. They
have kept tens of thousands of our forces in Iraq -- indefinitely,
without a clear
mission. Well, when you’re Commander-in-Chief, you owe the
troops a plan, you owe the country a plan -- and that includes
recognizing not just when to begin wars, but also how to end
So we brought our troops home responsibly. They left with their
heads held high, knowing they gave Iraqis a chance to
forge their own future. And today, there are no
Americans fighting in Iraq, and we are proud of all the Americans who
served there. (Applause.)
I pledged to make it a
priority to take out the terrorists who had attacked us on 9/11.
as a candidate, I said that if we had Osama bin Laden in our sights, we
would act to keep America safe -- even if it meant
going into Pakistan. Some of you remember, at the time, that
drew quite a bit of criticism. But since I took office, we’ve
with our allies and our partners to take out more top al Qaeda leaders
than any time since 9/11. And thanks to the
courage and the skill of our forces, Osama bin Laden will never
threaten America again, and al Qaeda is on the road to defeat.
pledged to finish the job in Afghanistan. After years of drift,
to break the momentum of the Taliban, and build up the capacity and the
capability of Afghans. And so, working
with our commanders, we came up with a new strategy, and we ordered
additional forces to get the job done. This is still a tough
But thanks to the incredible services and sacrifices of our troops, we
pushed the Taliban back; we’re training Afghan
forces; we’ve begun the transition to Afghan lead.
there are those who argued against a timeline for ending this war -- or
against talking about it publicly. But you know what, that’s not
plan for America’s security either. After
10 years of war, and given the progress we’ve made, I felt it was
important that the American people -- and our men and women in uniform
-- know our plan to end this war responsibly.
(Applause.) And so by the end of this summer,
more than 30,000 of our troops will have come home. Next year,
will take the lead for their own security. In 2014, the
will be complete. And even as our troops
come home, we’ll have a strong partnership with the Afghan people, and
we will stay vigilant so Afghanistan is never again a source for
attacks against America.
We’re not just ending
these wars; we’re doing it in a way that achieves our objectives.
Moreover, it’s allowed us to broaden our vision and begin a new era of
American leadership. We’re leading from Europe to
the Asia Pacific, with alliances that have never been stronger.
leading the fight against nuclear dangers. We’ve applied the
sanctions ever on Iran and North Korea -- nations that cannot be
allowed to threaten the world with nuclear weapons.
(Applause.) We’re leading on behalf of freedom -- standing with
in the Middle East and North Africa as they demand their rights;
protecting the Libyan people as they rid the world of Muammar Qaddafi.
Today, we’re also
working for a transition so the Syrian people can have a better future,
free of the Assad regime. And given the regime’s stockpiles of
chemical weapons, we will continue to make it clear to Assad
and those around him that the world is watching, and that they will be
held accountable by the international community and the United States,
should they make the tragic mistake of using those weapons.
(Applause.) And we will continue to work with our friends
and our allies and the Syrian opposition on behalf of the day when the
Syrian people have a government that respects their basic rights to
live in peace and freedom and dignity.
Because we’re leading
around the world, people have a new attitude toward America.
more confidence in our leadership. We see it everywhere we
go. We saw
it as grateful Libyans waved American flags. We
see it across the globe -- when people are asked, which country do you
admire the most, one nation comes out on top -- the United States of
So this is the progress that we’ve made. Thanks to the
extraordinary service of our men and women in uniform,
we’re winding down a decade of war; we’re destroying the terrorist
network that attacked us; we’re strengthening the alliances that extend
our values. And today, every American
can be proud that the United States is safer and stronger and more
respected in the world.
And all this allows us
to fulfill another promise that I made to you four years ago --
strengthening our military. After 10 years of operations, our
will now have fewer and shorter deployments, which means
more time on the home front to keep their families strong; more time to
heal from the wounds of war; more time to improve readiness and prepare
for future threats.
As President, I’ve
continued to make historic investments to keep our armed forces
strong. And guided by our new defense strategy, we will maintain
military superiority. It will be second to none as long as
I am President and well into the future. We’ve got the
best-led, best-equipped military in history. And as
I am going to keep it that way. (Applause.)
And by the way, given
all the rhetoric lately -- it is political season -- let’s also set the
record straight on the budget. Those big, across-the-board cuts,
including defense, that Congress said would occur next
year if they couldn’t reach a deal to reduce the deficit? Let’s
understand, first of all, there’s no reason that should happen, because
people in Congress ought to be able to come together and agree on a
plan, a balanced approach that reduces the deficit
and keeps our military strong. It should be done. (Applause.)
And there are a number
of Republicans in Congress who don’t want you to know that most of them
voted for these cuts. Now they’re trying to wriggle out of what
agreed to. Instead of making tough choices to
reduce the deficit, they’d rather protect tax cuts for some of the
wealthiest Americans, even if it risks big cuts in our military.
I’ve got to tell you, VFW, I disagree. If the choice is between
cuts that the wealthiest Americans don’t need and
funding our troops that they definitely need to keep our country
strong, I will stand with our troops every single time.
So let’s stop playing
politics with our military. Let’s get serious and reduce our
and keep our military strong. Let’s take some of the money
saving because we’re not fighting in Iraq and because
we’re winding down in Afghanistan -- use half that money to pay down
our deficit; let’s use half of it to do some nation-building here in
the United States of America. (Applause.)
Let’s keep taking care
of our extraordinary military families. For the first time ever,
made military families and veterans a top priority not just at DOD, not
just at the VA, but across the government.
As Richard mentioned, this has been a mission for my wife, Michelle,
and Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, Dr. Jill Biden. Today, more
people across America in every segment of society are Joining Forces to
give our military families the respect and the support
that they deserve. (Applause.)
And there’s another
way we can honor those who serve. It may no longer be a crime for
artists to pass themselves off as heroes, but one thing is certain --
it is contemptible. So this week, we will launch
a new website, a living memorial, so the American people can see who’s
been awarded our nation’s highest honors. Because no American
should ever have their valor stolen.
This leads me to
another promise I made four years ago -- upholding America’s
trust with our veterans. I promised to strengthen the VA, and
promise has been kept. In my first year, we achieved the
largest percentage increase in the VA budget in 30 years. And
going to keep making historic investments in our veterans. When
Richard came to the Oval Office, we talked about what those automatic
budget cuts -- sequestration -- could mean for the VA.
So my administration has made it clear: Your veteran’s benefits
exempt from sequestration. They are exempt.
(Applause.) And because
advance appropriations is now the law of the land, veterans' health
care is protected from the budget battles in Washington.
I promised you
that I’d stand up for veterans' health care. As long as I’m
President, I will not allow VA health care to be turned into a voucher
system, subject to the whims of the insurance market. Some have
for this plan. I could not disagree more. You
don’t need vouchers, you need the VA health care that you have earned
and that you depend on. (Applause.)
So we’ve made dramatic investments to help care for our veterans.
For our Vietnam veterans,
we declared that more illnesses are now presumed connected to your
exposure to Agent
Orange. As a result of our decision, Vietnam-era vets and your
families received nearly $4 billion in disability pay. You needed
you fought for it. We heard you and we got it done.
We’ve added mobile
clinics for our rural veterans; more tailored care for our women
veterans; unprecedented support for veterans with Traumatic Brain
Injury. All tolled, we’ve made VA health care available to nearly
800,000 veterans who didn’t have it before. (Applause.) And
supporting caregivers and families with the skills and the stipends to
help care for the veterans that they love.
Of course, more
veterans in the system means more claims. So we’ve hired
claims processors. We’re investing in paperless systems. To
credit, the dedicated folks at the VA are now completing
one million claims a year. But there’s been a tidal wave of new
claims. And when I hear about veterans waiting months, or years,
your benefits -- it is unacceptable. And we are doing something
We’re taking all those
folks who processed your Agent Orange claims -- more than 1,200 experts
-- and giving them a new mission: Attack the backlog. We’re
prioritizing veterans with the most serious disabilities.
And the VA and DOD will work harder towards a seamless transition so
new veterans aren’t just piled on to the backlog. And we will not rest
-- I will not be satisfied until we get this right. And today,
also calling on all those who help our vets complete
their claims -- state VAs, physicians and veteran groups like the VFW
-- to join us. You know how this can work better, so let’s get it
We’re also focused on
the urgent needs of our veterans with PTSD. We’ve poured
resources into this fight -- thousands of more counselors and more
clinicians, more care and more treatment. And we've
made it easier for veterans with PTSD to qualify for VA benefits.
after a decade of war, it’s now an epidemic. We’re losing more
to suicide -- one every single day -- than we are in combat.
to some estimates, about 18 veterans are taking
their lives each day -- more every year than all the troops killed in
Iraq and Afghanistan combined. That's a tragedy. It's
It should not be happening in the United States of America.
So when I hear about
servicemembers and veterans who had the courage to seek help but didn’t
get it, who died waiting, that's an outrage. And I’ve told
Panetta, Chairman Dempsey and Secretary Shinseki
we’ve got to do better. This has to be all hands on deck.
So our message to
everyone who’s ever worn the uniform -- if you’re hurting, it’s not a
sign of weakness to seek help, it’s a sign of strength. And when
do, we’ll be there and do more to help -- including more
counselors and clinicians to help you heal. We need to end this
tragedy, VFW. (Applause.) And we're going to work together
to make it
So, too with our
campaign to end homelessness among our veterans. We’ve now helped
bring tens of thousands of veterans off the streets and into permanent
housing. This has to be a core mission, because every
veteran who has fought for America ought to have a home in
And this brings me to
the last promise I want to discuss with you. Four years ago, I
that I’d do everything I could to help our veterans realize the
American Dream, to enlist you in building a stronger America.
After all, our veterans have the skills that America needs. So
our economy is growing and creating jobs, but it’s still too hard for
too many folks to find work, especially our younger veterans, our
veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. And with a million
more troops rejoining civilian life in the years ahead -- and looking
for work -- we’ve got to step up our game, at every stage of their
So today, I’m
announcing a major overhaul of our transition assistance program.
We’re going to set up a kind of "reverse boot camp" for our departing
servicemembers. Starting this year, they’ll get more personalized
assistance as they plan their careers. We’ll provide the training
need to find that job, or pursue that education, or start that
business. And just as they’ve maintained their military
we’ll have new standards of "career readiness."
In addition, by making
the Post-9/11 GI Bill a priority, we’ve helped more than 800,000
veterans and their families pursue their education. And I’ve
executive order to help put a stop to schools that
are ripping off our veterans. (Applause.)
I’ve directed the
federal government to step up on jobs. Since I took office, we’ve
hired more than 200,000 veterans into the federal government. We
it a priority. (Applause.) And we’re keeping track --
every agency, every department: What are you doing for our
community health centers to hire thousands of veterans as physicians
and nurses. And as we help local communities hire new police
and firefighters and first responders, we’re giving a preference
We’re also fighting to
get more vets hired in the private sector. With new tools like
online Veterans Jobs Bank, we’re connecting veterans directly to
We’re helping thousands of veterans get certified
for good-paying jobs in manufacturing. We succeeded in passing
credits for businesses that hire our veterans and our wounded
warriors. And this morning, I signed into law the Veteran Skills
Jobs Act -- making it easier for veterans to transfer their
outstanding military skills into the licenses and credentials they need
to get civilian jobs. (Applause.)
If you are a young man
that is in charge of a platoon or millions of dollars of equipment and
are taking responsibility, or you’re a medic out in the field who is
saving lives every single day -- when you come home,
you need to be credentialed and certified quickly so you can get on the
job. People should understand how skilled you are.
there shouldn’t be bureaucrats or runarounds. We’ve got to put
folks to work.
Last summer, I also
challenged the private sector to hire or train 100,000 veterans or
their spouses. Michelle and Jill Biden have been leading the
through Joining Forces. And so far, thousands of patriotic
businesses have hired or trained more than 90,000 veterans and
spouses. And our message to companies is simple: If you
who gets the job done, then hire a vet. (Applause.) Hire a
a vet and they will make you proud just like they’ve
made America proud.
And we’re fighting for
veterans who want to start their own businesses, including more
training in entrepreneurship. It’s one of the reasons we’ve cut
-- 18 times for small businesses, including veteran-owned
businesses. And the effects ripple out, because vets are more
to hire vets.
So today, we can point
to progress. More veterans are finding jobs; the unemployment
veterans has come down. Yes, it’s still too high, but it’s coming
down. And now we’ve got to sustain that momentum.
It’s one of the reasons I’ve proposed to Congress a Veterans Jobs Corps
to put our veterans back to work protecting and rebuilding
And today, I am again calling on Congress: Pass this Veterans
Corps and extend the tax credits for businesses
that hire veterans so we can give these American heroes the jobs and
opportunities that they deserve. (Applause.)
So, VFW, these are the
promises that I made. These are the promises that I’ve
kept. Where we
still have more to do, we will not rest. That’s my vow to
got your back. I’ve got your six. Because we
have a solemn obligation to all who serve
-- not just for the years you’re in uniform, but
for all the decades that follow, and because even though today’s wars
are ending, the hard work of taking care of our newest veterans has
only just begun.
Just as you protected
America, we’re going to pass our country to the next generation,
stronger and safer and more respected in the world. So if anyone
to tell you that our greatness has passed, that America
is in decline, you tell them this: Just like the 20th century,
21st is going to be another great American Century. For we are
Americans, blessed with the greatest form of government ever devised by
man, a democracy dedicated to freedom and committed
to the ideals that still light the world. We will never apologize
our way of life; we will never waver in its defense.
We are a nation that
freed millions and turned adversaries into allies. We are the
Americans who defended the peace and turned back aggression. We
Americans who welcome our global responsibilities and our
global leadership. The United States has been, and will remain,
one indispensable nation in world affairs.
And you, you are the
soldiers, the sailors, the airmen, the Marines and the Coast Guardsmen
who have kept us strong. We will honor your legacy. And we
ensure that the military you served, and the America
that we love, remains the greatest force for freedom that the world has
God bless you. God bless all of our veterans. And God bless
the United States of America. (Applause.)