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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.

Anthony Principi
Veterans Affairs Secretary
In Focus: Veterans

November 9, 2004

Anthony Principi

I'm very pleased to have this opportunity to communicate with the American people with regards to the critically important mission of my department, the Department of Veterans Affairs. We are living in a tumultuous time in America and around the world with the war on terrorism.

We have a new generation of men and women in harms way in Iraq and Afghanistan who are doing a magnificent job in protecting the American people, standing between the American people and the terrorists. We need to be very, very thankful to them for their extraordinary commitment to our security and our ideals.

November 11, of course, is Veterans Day. It was called Armistice Day at one point in time. It became known as Veterans Day in the 1950s . It is an opportunity to thank the men and women in uniform and those who have served in the service.

I am grateful to President Bush to his extraordinary commitment to my department and the veterans. We've seen unprecedented increases in our budget from $48 billion when the President took office and to $65 billion today, going up to over $70 billion this year when we get our appropriation bill. This is the largest dollar increase in the history of my department in a four year period.

That has allowed us to treat 1 million more veterans, receive the health that they did not before these increases went into effect and been able to reduce the enormous backlog of claims for disability compensation and other benefits.

We've made tremendous progress under the President's leadership and I'm very proud to lead a great department committed to the service of others.

Paula, from Ipswich, Massachusetts writes:
Dear Secretary Principi,I'm a social studies teacher north of Boston who teaches a full year of Civics to seventh grade students. I'd love to have some up to date materials to teach about Veterans Day. Can you suggest some?

Thanks, Paula Jones Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District

Anthony Principi
Please go on our web site at It will tell you a great deal about the VA and there is a site for youngsters where they can learn about the VA. We have materials that can be sent to you as well. The meaning of Veterans Day. But I believe our web site, especially the kids site, has that material.

Kimberly, from Massachusetts writes:
How can I personally thank a veteran with more than just a smile and a thank you ? Especially when we need to express our gratitude in a tangible way .I have a lot of kids and I hope they will appreciate those who have served in the military to keep us and the world free. How can we be more active in showing our veterans how much we appreciate them?

Anthony Principi
I appreciate your question and I would start by saying that a smile and a thank you is indeed very, very important. I think by saying thank you to young soldiers in camouflage coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan and a smile means so much to them.

Today we need volunteers. We need a cadre of volunteers to serve in our medical centers and our cemeteries. Visit our cemeteries and our medical centers. Perhaps your students can walk around the wards and talk to veterans and bring them cards and cookies from home. Also we have nursing homes and medical centers. We have many in Massachusetts. And I hope you can find one closest to your school and get those young people involved. They will come to appreciate the sacrifices that people made so that they can attend school in a free society.

Brittany, from New Hampshire writes:
What are you planning to do to celebrate veterans day? How will you personally contribute to these celebrations?HAPPY VETERANS DAY

Anthony Principi
Thank you. As a veteran I’m very proud of my service in uniform. It is always a great, great celebration here in DC. I’ll start in the morning with some news broadcasts talking to the American people about Veterans Day. Then I’ll go to the White House and meet with the President for a reception with the leaders of our veterans organizations, military organizations, military leaders and other cabinet officials.

Then we’ll go to Arlington National Cemetery where the President will lay a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The President will address the American people in the beautiful amphitheatre at Arlington National Cemetery. I hope someday you will be able to come to Washington and see for yourself what a moving tribute it is to be in Arlington when the President lays the wreath.

Jason, from Knoxville writes:
What are some of the Presidents plans for Veterans Affairs in the next four years? I know you have done a very good job of getting more people enrolled and have less people on the waiting list.Thanks

Anthony Principi
Well, I thank you for the kind words, Jason. We are working very hard to care for more people in a timely manner and to decide their claims. The President’s plan for my department is to stay the course over the next four years and to continue to work hard to provide even more care for our veterans. And of course to provide high quality service for those veterans and the widows and the widowers and the children with their benefits.

Jada, from Reidsville, North Carolina writes:
I am in the 3rd grade at Wentworth Elem. school in Wentworth, NC.My questionis who was your 3rd grade teacher? and was the 3rd grade hard for you?

Anthony Principi
Well, Jada, I’m sorry to say that I don’t remember the name of my third grade teacher. She was a Catholic nun, I was in a Catholic grammar school in New York City. She was kind of tough on me, but she said that I looked like St. Francis of Assisi so I was the star of the school play, I remember that.

Every grade was hard for me because I didn’t study as hard as I should have. So take a lesson from someone who didn’t study as hard and you should hit the books every day and be active in sports and other events. Hopefully someday you’ll be in the Cabinet of the President of the United States.

Ken, from Grants Pass, Oregon writes:
What will the Bush administration do -- specifically -- to protect the eroding availability of health care for veterans. (In answering, please remember that most of the beneficiaries of veterans' care can't drive 1,000 miles for treatment.)

Anthony Principi
This is a very good question, Ken. And I want you to know that there has been no erosion in availability of heath care for veterans. We have dramatically increased the amount of money that we spend on veterans benefits and health care. The President is absolutely committed to doing whatever is necessary to making sure that veterans get the health care they need. That’s why my budget has gone up so much.;

We have opened up hundreds of outpatient clinics in the past four years thanks to President Bush and members of Congress so that veterans don’t have to drive thousand miles to get their care. They can get their care much closer to home. I’m confident under the President’s leadership that we’ll continue to improve and expand the reach of health care of benefit delivery for our nation’s veterans.

Raymond, from Springville,Al. writes:
What is the outlook for The Veterans Administration medical vacilities such as Birmingham,Murfreesboro,Tn?Also the staffing of these locations?

Anthony Principi
Raymond, we have a process underway called CARES -- Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services. This will allow us to modernize all of our VA facilities across the country because many of them came into the VA many, many years ago and we need to conform our health care system to the change of medical delivery in America and also to the change in the veteran population. We need to be where they’ve moved to and have facilities in those areas.

I believe our facilities in Alabama are doing a wonderful, wonderful job and I’m confident they will continue to do so.

Jon, from Suffield, Conecticut writes:
I don't have a question but I would like to say thank you to the veterans that are still living today. Thank you for everything that you fought for. It has affected how I live my life today.Thank you again

Anthony Principi
Well John, thank you for your kind words for the men and women who serve in uniform. We are very fortunate and it is kindness from people like you that mean a great deal to people who have served in uniform and fought in combat.

Jacob, from Wash DC. writes:
Is there special policy for the Veterans to enter into the university? or some tax relief policy for them to start small business?

Anthony Principi
Yes. One of the most successful programs we administer is the GI bill. It is the bill that allows veterans to go to college after they serve on active duty. President Bush has increased spending for education by 47 percent. It has gone from $600 per month to over $1,000 per month for four year college education or to pursue some other training program.

I believe this will allow so many more men and women who have left active duty to go on to school. I don’t know if there is tax relief to start small businesses, but we have the small business administration and they are very helpful to men and women who wish to start a business. Go to

Also go to our web site at WE have a small and disadvantaged business office here at my agency and we are always looking to help veterans who wish to do so.

Anonymous, from U.S.A. writes:
Does the V.A. provide any services for homeless veterans?

Anthony Principi
Yes, I am so proud of our homeless programs. We do so much for homeless. We have now provided grants in all 50 states. We have about 10,000 beds now for homeless veterans. We also treat the underlying conditions of homelessness, substance abuse and mental illness and loss of jobs. We try to attack it several different ways. One is through our grant and per diem program where we provide grants to non-profit and faith based organizations to provide housing for veterans. We provide mental health services around the country.

And I’m very grateful that the President looked to me to head the Interagency Council on Homelessness and working together with our fellow agencies that we can achieve the President’s goal of ending chronic homelessness in the next 10 years. It is a very ambitious goal but the President is absolutely committed to doing so.

Linda, from Bremerton, WA writes:
There has been a variety of information published concerning the status of concurrent receipt of military retirement pay and disability pay. Resolution, promised for a very long time, is long overdue but we keep hearing that we're almost there. When can my husband, a VietNam Vet who spent 20 years in the Corps and is now 80 disabled, expect to see his disability pay AND his military retirement pay at the same time?

Anthony Principi
Linda, I am proud that President Bush for the first time in over 100 years signed into law legislation to allow a military retiree like your Marine Corps husband to receive both his disability compensation from the VA and his military retirement pay.

He should file with the Department of Defense. I would go online at the va (web site) or the dod web site to get the forms your husband will need to receive both.

I am very proud that the President asked me to negotiate a compromise. We did. We have come an awful long way.

Dan, from Kings Bay, GA writes:
As a disabled veteran also a retired reservist (Army) iwould like to know if I will some day be eligible for concurrent pay. My disability is from active duty but I eventually retired from the Army reserves.

Anthony Principi
Dan, please go online and check all of the eligibility criteria. I believe you probably eligible. I think a lot depends on the degree of your disability. And it will be phased in over time but I would definitely go online. And if you have further questions, don’t hesitate to call the VA regional office in Georgia and hopefully they can give you the information you need.

Chris, from Chili NY writes:
Sir, Good afternoon. I would first like to express my happiness at the President's re-election. I was proud to vote for him. It was the first time i was able to vote in a Presidential Election. Congradulations to you all.

What will the President be doing on Veterans Day? Please, if you see President Bush today and are able to, tell him my friends and I say "congradulations"

Thanks for taking the time to read my question. Have a good day.


Anthony Principi
My sister lives in Chili, Chris. I know the President is very grateful for your vote. I know President Bush will do everything in his power to earn your trust. He has worked very hard and will continue to do so. The President will be at Arlington Cemetery to lay a wreath at the tomb of the unknown solider and then he will speak to the American people to express his gratitude to all the men and women who have kept America free throughout history.

sue, from pensacola writes:
thank you for the wonderful veterans day packet i printed from the internet. it has been very helpful with the planning of our veterans day program at sacred heart cathedral school. the students will be taking home a copy of the childrens portion of the packet. My husband, Lcdr. Mark ehlers was killed while on active duty in february 1997. I appreciate all that is done for our children of today to help remember those who have died while serving our country. thanks again, sue sacred heart cathedral school

Anthony Principi
Sue, I am sorry about the devastation in Pensacola as a result of the hurricane. I was glad the President went there with the Governor to offer aid. And I hope that your home was not destroyed in those terrible hurricanes.

We all mourn the loss of your husband. We are indebted to him and to his comrades who fell while on active duty. Of course, to you and your family we must always remember those who are left behind. We need to care for them and for their widows, widowers and children. And that’s what we do.

I am very grateful to you and I wish you the best.

Christopher, from Missouri writes:
Mister Secretary: How many veterans are there currently? Thanks, Christopher

Anthony Principi

There are 25 million veterans alive today in this nation. Regrettably we are losing many veterans every day because our WWII veterans are aged, and our Korean and Vietnam veterans are beginning to age as well. We have 25 million living today.

Brian, from Poquoson, VA writes:
Wouldn't it help our country for Veterans Day to be a bigger day than the 4th of July? It would help with military recruitment?

Anthony Principi
We try to make it as big as we can Brian. The 4th of July is a very special day as well. We work very hard to promote Veterans Day and to make all America aware of the contributions from the men and women in uniform.

But we don't need Veterans Day to say thank you, we should say thank you to a veteran every day.

William, from Southold, New York writes:
We are trying to hold a Veteran's Day Ceremony at our school. When will the President release his annual proclamation? We would like to read it on 10 November in a school wide assembly. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.

Anthony Principi
The proclamation is out. Click here.

Anthony Principi
It has been a pleasure to be on the web site to chat about veterans benefits. I want to again express my utmost gratitude to the men and women who are in Iraq and Afghanistan for their enormous, enormous courage and compassion and to their families who sacrificed with their loved ones.

I want to thank the 230,000 employees of the Dept of Veterans Affairs for their dedication and commitment and skill to care for our men and women who served. And I want to thank our President his steadfast resolve in the war on terrorism and for standing behind my department as we move forward into the challenges of the 21st century.

Thank you all very, very much.

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