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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Jim Nicholson
Secretary of Veterans Affairs

November 10, 2006

Jim Nicholson
I appreciate the opportunity to talk about our nation’s veterans and honoring their service this Veterans Day. This year, we at VA have launched a new campaign to honor our veterans. It’s called the Veterans Pride Initiative ( We are asking veterans tomorrow to wear the medals and ribbons they earned during their service, whether it is at the local Veterans Day parade or just going about their daily activities. It shows their pride in having served and allows their communities to recognize their service. We hope this will become an annual Veterans Day tradition, and for other patriotic holidays as well. It is also a great honor for me to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, the second-largest cabinet agency in the government, whose 235,000 employees are dedicated to their mission of serving our veterans with world-class health care, benefits and memorial services.

Charles, from Winter Park, FL writes:
What kinds of steps does the Department of Veterans Affairs take during wartime to prepare for the influx of veterans that are bound to request your services when they come back home? Thank you for all that you do; it is very much appreciated

Jim Nicholson
Thanks, Charles. The VA is very well positioned to provide care to our returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. As the largest integrated health care organization in the United States, we can meet their needs through 1,400 health care facilities throughout the country, including more than 700 community-based outpatient clinics, which provide health care access closer to veterans’ homes. We also have 207 Vet Centers, which are often the first contact points for returning veterans seeking health care and benefits near their homes. And the VA is an acknowledged leader in providing specialty care in the treatment of such illnesses as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), spinal cord injury, and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Besides providing for their health care, VA has programs in place to assist returning combat veterans reintegrate into their communities and civilian life. In addition, each VA Medical Center and Veterans Administration Regional Office has identified a point of contact to ensure the seamless transition of these veterans into the VA system. We are honored to be able to serve these heroes and we are aggressively reaching out to them.

Bill, from Long Island, New York writes:
I retired from the Army Reserve a year ago with more than 30 years of service. I am wondering how I might be able to receive a certificate from the President. RS

Jim Nicholson
Bill, first, let me say thank you for your service. Americans can submit requests to the White House for recognition letters for someone who is retiring after or having served more than 30 years in the armed services, but the White House does not issue formal certificates.

John, from Ansbach Germany writes:
Mr Secretary my question is when did Veterans Day come about.I was explained by my father a vet of Korea and Vietnam wars,that Memorial Day is for the dead and this is for the living.I agree but wonder if this is true.I am a vet of Iraq and that other war as some refer to it.I told this to someone during my recent visit stateside,but then I wondered if this was the reason or simply to honor those that served. Best regards to the best White House since the late Ronald Reagan and God Bless. Spc John R., United States Army

Jim Nicholson
I am glad you asked that, John. While those who died are also remembered on Veterans Day, this is the day set aside to thank and honor those who served in the military – whether in wartime or peacetime. In fact, Veterans Day is largely intended to thank living veterans for their service, to acknowledge that their contributions to national security are appreciated, and to underscore that all those who served -- not only those who died -- have sacrificed and done their duty. Again, I want to mention that this year the VA launched the Veterans Pride initiative to rally America's veterans to express patriotism and pride in past military service by encouraging all veterans to wear their medals or miniature replicas on national patriotic holidays beginning with this year's Veterans Day.

But let me tell you a little about the history of Veterans Day. In 1921, an unknown World War I American soldier was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Similar ceremonies occurred earlier in England and France, where an unknown soldier was buried in each nation’s highest place of honor (in England, Westminster Abbey; in France, the Arc de Triomphe). These memorial gestures all took place on November 11, giving universal recognition to the celebrated ending of World War I fighting at 11 a.m., November 11, 1918 (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month). The day became known as "Armistice Day."

In 1954, Congress passed a bill that changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day, which is our opportunity to give national recognition to those men and women who have served the cause of liberty and freedom.

Audrey, from Everett Mass. writes:
I just wanted to let you know who much i admaire you and the job that you are doing, I feel as though you have a job that takes great courage. Thank-you Audrey, Everett Mass.

Jim Nicholson
Audrey, thank you for those kind words, but serving our nation's veterans is a great honor and privilege and one that I share with more than 235,000 employees here at the VA. Our health care system is now considered the best healthcare in the United States. And that is not the opinion of a proud Secretary, but we have been recognized as such as by major publications such as the New York Times, Time Magazine and BusinessWeek. We have also recently received an award for innovation in government from Harvard University. Our veterans deserve the best and our employees are dedicated to delivering the highest quality of care and services we can. We have as our "motto" or inspiration here at the VA, President Lincoln’s charge that "we must care for those who have borne the battle…"

Jace, from Phoenix, AZ writes:
Mr. Secretary,What types of security measures are being implemented by the VA Department in order to prevent security breaches like the one earlier this year? Thank you.

Jim Nicholson
After the data theft incident last May, the VA embarked on a relentless mission to make us the "Gold Standard" in data security. I believe that we can be the leaders in information security, just as we are considered the best in health care. We’ve already moved to reorganize our Office of Information Technology, to make it more effective and efficient. We’ve developed aggressive new policies and procedures on how we handle and protect veterans’ sensitive information. We are implementing proven technologies and safeguards to protect and secure data and the access to these kinds of sensitive information. We have also launched a massive awareness and training campaign for our employees. We take our responsibility to protect veterans' information very seriously. We are unrelenting in our mission to become leaders in this area.

Jeff, from Ely, Nevada writes:
Secretary Nicholson,Does the the Veterans Affairs Department know how many World War 1 Veterans are still alive?

Jim Nicholson
Jeff, there are nine living World War I American veterans that are receiving care or benefits from the VA. We are also aware of five others but there could be more that we do not know about, that’s why we are asking the public to help us in our search for these remaining heroes of WWI. Public awareness and participation is vital. Canada and Great Britain have begun plans for national memorialization of the passing of their last WWI veteran. If you or anyone reading this site know of any remaining WWI veterans, please notify the VA’s Office of Public Affairs in Washington, DC at (202) 273-5730.

Jackie, from St. Louis writes:
Secretary Nicholson, I want to show my appreciation to the many veterans who have sacrificed to preserve the freedoms we enjoy in our Nation today. What can the average citizen do to say thanks? Are there events or activities we can attend, or places where we can volunteer? Thanks for your service!

Jim Nicholson
Thank you for this question, Jackie. There are so many ways to show appreciation to our nation's veterans. Many veteran service organizations have volunteer opportunities in their local communities. And at the VA, we have a robust volunteer outreach offering countless volunteer service opportunities all across the country. The VA has hospitals, clinics and nursing homes throughout the country where citizens can volunteer their time in a variety of ways. In our national cemeteries, volunteer buglers play "Taps" for memorial services of our heroes. Contact your local VA facility to sign up with our volunteer services corps. And tomorrow, on Veterans Day, if you see a veteran wearing his or her medals, please thank them for their service to our country.

Jim Nicholson
Again, thank you all for your questions. There are nearly 24 million living American veterans. Each took the oath to protect our freedom. On Veterans Day, we honor them and their sacrifices. At the VA, we dedicate ourselves to serving these heroes. To learn more about our mission, please visit Thank you.

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