Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki
Homeless Veterans Resource Center Ribbon-cutting
April 7, 2010
A time-honored and sacred duty is caring for those who cannot care for themselves—to open our doors to those in need of food, shelter, and clothing. That thread of selflessness is woven into our national character—making us stronger, more generous, and enduring as a people.
Our Nation’s Veterans are very much a part of that fabric—their strength is America’s strength. Throughout the ages, they have unhesitatingly safeguarded our way of life. In honoring their service, VA is keeping faith with Abraham Lincoln’s promise, made in 1865, to care for those who have borne the battle, and for their families. Nowhere is this more evident than here in Dayton, where advocacy and caring for Veterans goes back, literally, to Lincoln’s day.
This medical center, one of VA’s three oldest hospitals, was built just two years after Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address, laying the foundation for what is today the world’s greatest health care system. Generations of physicians, nurses, and medical staff have nurtured Ohio’s Veterans here—a legacy of which we can all be proud. Today, in partnership with the 88th Medical Group, we are sharing facilities and resources to provide the best possible care for Veterans and the men and women of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Wright-Patt has its own proud legacy stretching back to 1904, when Wilbur and Orville Wright began to fine tune their “flyer” at the meadows of Huffman Prairie Flying Field, not far from here. Just as Wright-Patt is central to the history of aviation, so, too, is the Dayton VA Medical Center central to the history of national health care for Veterans.
With today’s opening of this Veterans resource center, we are adding capability to VA’s legacy of care here in Ohio. I am delighted to be able to share this moment with so many leaders who are dedicated to our mission, and who have helped to care for the men and women who serve in uniform.
Great endeavors result from great collaboration—and VA certainly did not arrive here alone. This center is the result of years of planning and partnership, the hard work of many organizations and individuals, but most especially the enthusiastic energy and leadership of the Volunteers of America of Greater Ohio. It also represents the dedication of Ohio’s local, state, and national leaders—from city hall to the state legislature to the halls of Congress.
I want to thank all of you for your commitment to transforming the vision of caring for Ohio’s homeless Veterans into the reality we break ground on today. This facility will be a rung on a ladder that leads to the restoration of Veterans’ dignity, their hope, and their future. It will help relieve the pain of those who have so little—after having given so much.
The need for this center is driven, in part, by two very distinct images of the men and women who have served our nation—two incongruent images.
The first image is this—and it is one most familiar to everyone in this audience of caregivers and volunteers. Each year, around 60 percent of high school graduates go on to colleges and universities—some version of higher education. Of the remaining 40 percent or so, some undergo vocational training, and some immediately enter the workforce. Fewer others, still, join the less than 1 percent of Americans who volunteer to serve in our nation’s armed forces.
After basic training and arrival at their first units, they quickly become valued and trusted members of high-performing teams—tough, motivated, and extremely dedicated. With excellent leadership, they go forward each and every day, to perform the complex, the difficult, and the dangerous missions. On some days, they are asked to do the impossible. Think of what they’ve been asked to do, and what they’ve accomplished, with unwavering commitment and without complaint, these last eight years in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But there is a second image: Veterans suffer disproportionately from homelessness, depression, substance abuse, and suicide, and they are well up there in joblessness as well. 107,000 of them sleep on the streets of our nation—and another 40,000 Veterans are released from prison each year.
What’s wrong with these disparate images? To be sure, there are far fewer Veterans in the second image than in the first, but they are the same youngsters. How did we fail to continue the kinds of successes they achieved while in uniform? How do we keep them from entering that downward spiral of joblessness, depression, and substance abuse that often leads to homelessness and, sometimes, to suicide?
It’s not about them; it’s about us.
At VA, our goal is to never allow those youngsters in image #1 to become part of image #2, and to return those in image #2 to lives as productive as possible.
This Veterans Resource Center helps us accomplish those goals. Here, homeless Veterans will find respite—transitional housing, job training, employment placement service, case management, and a well-trained staff to help break a downward spiral that often includes substance abuse and mental health issues. It can mean the renewal of hope. It can be the place that relieves the burdens and despair associated with life on the street or in shelters. It is the open door to a stranger in need—the promise of a new beginning, from a grateful nation.
Now, let’s cut this ribbon and launch this center of compassion and caring for Ohio’s homeless Veterans. Thank you.