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Veterans Crisis Line Badge

Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki

United We Serve Kick Off
Washington, DC
June 22, 2009

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the Washington, DC VA Medical Center.

President Obama has called upon all Americans to volunteer their time, talent, and energy this summer to create meaningful change in our communities. This week, leaders of federal agencies are taking part in service projects all across the country to kick-off this service initiative.
Veterans Affairs is adding its voice to that call to action and inviting Americans to find ways of serving our nation’s Veterans. This morning, these senior members of the VA leadership and I each had the privilege of volunteering on behalf of local Veterans. Spending time this summer giving back to those, who have already given us so much, is a great way to honor America’s heroes.

At VA, volunteering is a long-established tradition. For over 60 years now, VA volunteers have donated over 700 million hours of service. Last year alone, over 80,000 VA volunteers contributed over 11 million hours of service. That’s equivalent to the work of over 5,000 full-time employees. Our volunteers are critical to the care we provide to our Veterans.
A few months ago, the mother of a 41-year-old Air Force Veteran called the volunteer office here at the hospital in tears. Her son, Lee, was dying of cancer. He required treatment three times a week, but she was unable to keep her job and take him to his appointments. The hospital service coordinator is a volunteer named Peter Ahearn from the Disabled American Veterans service organization. He assured her that they would help. One of the DAV’s volunteer drivers, Richard Price, made a personal commitment to ensure that Lee got to all of his appointments.

In spite of his illness and suffering, Lee was invariably upbeat, and his mother was deeply appreciative of the volunteer efforts on her son’s behalf, as well as flexibility on the part of the VA medical center staff. Lee’s physician, Dr. Schecter, always coordinated with the drivers and allowed Lee to come in for treatment any time, day or night.
Sadly, on June 4th, Lee lost his battle with cancer. Lee’s mother called to ask if Richard and Peter would take Lee on one more trip—to be pallbearers at Lee’s funeral—and they did. They stood by as the bugler played taps and the flag was presented to his grieving mother. Later that day, Peter Ahearn wrote the following observation:
“The medical care here is fantastic, but if the Veteran can’t get here to receive it, it is of no value. That’s why we are here. We get up before sunrise so the Lees of the world can get to the Dr. Schecters of our hospital. We carry them in sickness and honor them in passing. We all have the opportunity to care for those who served and sacrificed. Never lose sight. It’s about them.”
Peter Ahearn is here today. I’d like to ask him to stand. Would you please join me in thanking him for what he does on behalf of Veterans?

Ladies and gentlemen, volunteers make an extraordinary difference in the lives of Veterans. America needs more Richard Prices and Peter Ahearns, but regrettably, VA’s volunteer numbers have declined recently. Today, we hope all Americans will consider what they can do to serve Veterans and contribute to their communities in other meaningful ways.
Here are some ways to get involved:

  • Become a volunteer driver, and join our Volunteer Transportation Network;
  • Join us in welcoming our Veterans home from Iraq and Afghanistan;
  • Help keep Veterans off the streets, and take part in “stand downs” against homelessness;
  • Volunteer at one of our 128 national cemeteries to pay your respects to our Veterans.

You can find out more by visiting VA’s volunteer Website at www.volunteer.va.gov.

We who bask in liberty’s glow are forever in the debt of those who have secured its blessings for all of us. Though the debt is largely unpayable, volunteering our time, talents, and energies is a great way to show our respect and appreciation for their sacrifices.

May God bless them all, those, who have served our great nation, and those, who continue to sacrifice for our way of life.

Thank you.