During this special Holiday Season—this season of giving and of sharing; this holy season of worship; this season of thanksgiving for the blessings of peace and liberty, this season of families gathering together in the warmth of familiar surroundings—we, at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), express our heartfelt thanks to the men and women of our Armed Forces for safeguarding us all. They and their families sacrifice so much for this Nation, and we are deeply grateful to them. We are equally honored to salute the more than 22 million living American Veterans who similarly distinguished themselves in years past. Their collective service is the bedrock of our Nation's sovereignty and the guarantor of our security as a democracy. They bequeath to us the greatest gift of all—the freedom to decide how to live our lives. And in that gift resides the freedom to choose how to celebrate this special season.
Our Holiday celebrations—whether Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or any of our other special observances—"wave a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful" [Norman Vincent Peale]. This is a beautiful time of year, and an appropriate opportunity to reflect on our noble mission of caring for those who have borne the battle, and for their survivors.
Three-and-a-half million Servicemembers have volunteered since the attacks of 9/11. Over one-and-a-half million of them have deployed to, and returned from, combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Roughly a million Servicemembers will be leaving the ranks of the military in the next five years. They only ask that we give them the ability to choose how to live the rest of their lives. This is not just about our freedom. It is about theirs as well—the freedom they fought for. We have a mission because these courageous men and women have been willing to risk everything for us. Let us not disappoint them. They have done their duty; let us do ours, even better than they expect.
On their behalf, we have accomplished a lot at VA. I have asked a great deal of every employee at VA–320,000 strong. You have given more than was asked or expected. It is a busy time with so much to accomplish for these young men and women, who stand today where some of us have stood in years past. I am indebted to each and every one of you—no matter where you work, no matter what you do, no matter that we may have never met. Thank you for serving VA so well. Thank you for caring for our Veterans the way you do. I wish you and your loved ones the most blessed of Holidays, much happiness, and good fortune in the New Year!
May God bless each and every one of you. May God bless the men and women who serve, and have served, in uniform. And may God continue to bless this wonderful country of ours.