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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki

Veterans Day
Arlington National Cemetery
November 11, 2011

  • Mr. President, First Lady Michelle Obama;

  • Medal of Honor recipients Harold Fritz and Brian Thacker;

  • Distinguished members of the Congress;

  • Secretary of Defense Panetta, service Secretaries, and members of the Defense leadership;

  • Chairman and Mrs. Marty Dempsey, leaders of our uniformed services;

  • Deputy VA Secretary Scott Gould, other VA leaders;

  • Russell Vowinkel, Commander-in-Chief, Military Order of the World Wars, our co-host for this year's celebration;

  • Bill Muehleib and other Pearl Harbor survivors, who are standing their last Veterans Day formation as a service organization. For the past 70 years, they have been stalwart reminders of the importance of national readiness. Thank you all for your service. Godspeed;

  • Other Veteran service organizations;

  • Fellow Veterans, other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

What a beautiful day for observing this 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, in the 11th year of this century. We gather as Americans to honor, thank, and celebrate those who have safeguarded this great Nation both in peace and in war and to renew our commitment as a Nation to those who, in President Abraham Lincoln's words, have "borne the battle."

In these uncertain times, the Nation's Veterans can take great comfort in knowing that we have a Commander-in-Chief who is staunchly devoted to keeping Lincoln's commitment. President Obama's support for Veterans has been strong, consistent, and unwavering, and because of that, we are transforming VA to better serve Veterans throughout the 21st century.

Working with the Congress, the President provided, in 2010, the largest single-year increase to the VA budget in over 30 years, and he has steadily grown that budget by 27 percent over the past two fiscal years. Extraordinary support during these tough economic times, yet essential if we were going to increase Veteran access to our services and benefits, eliminate the backlog in disability claims, and end Veterans' homelessness in 2015. In the last two-and-a-half years, we have:

  • Added nearly 800,000 Veterans to VA's healthcare rolls, built more than 50 new Community-Based Outpatient Clinics, are building five new hospitals, and have invested heavily in both mental healthcare and in telehealth technologies to link Veterans, wherever they reside, to the VA services they need.

  • We have also improved outreach to women Veterans, adding 144 women's program coordinators at our key Medical Centers and women Veterans' benefits coordinators at our 56 Regional Offices.

  • We have enrolled over 630,000 Veterans and family members in college under the new GI Bill.

  • We have begun piloting an automated claims process that will start eliminating the backlog next year.

  • We have helped permanently house over 32,000 homeless Veterans and assisted another 50,000 through our homeless call center, and

  • We have addressed longstanding issues from past wars—Agent Orange, Gulf War illness, combat post-traumatic stress disorder—making it easier for hundreds of thousands of Veterans to receive the benefits they earned.

No president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has done more for the Nation's Veterans, who answered the call to general quarters at Pearl Harbor, turned the tide at Midway, captured Hitler's Eagle's Nest, outflanked communist forces at Inchon, fought and defeated the Tet '68 offensive, liberated Kuwait, toppled Saddam Hussein, drove the Taliban into hiding, brought Osama bin Laden to justice.

We could not ask for a stronger advocate for Veterans and for the men and women who serve today in uniform, who will be tomorrow's Veterans.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great personal and professional honor to present to you our Commander-in-Chief—the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama.