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For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
July 31, 2004
Vice President's Remarks to 83rd National Convention of the Disabled America Veterans
9:50 A.M. PDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you all very much. And thank you for that warm welcome, and great to be here. And I want to thank Commander Bowers for that introduction. I brought two guests with me today. My wife, Lynne, down here in the front row, is traveling with us. (Applause.) And next to her is somebody you may recognize, is Al Simpson, former senator from Wyoming -- (applause) -- former chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee in the United States Senate, when he had honest work. (Laughter.)
Lynne and I have been looking forward to joining you today for this convention. I'm delighted to see Tony Principi here. (Applause.) He does a superb job for all of us. And Congressman Jim Gibbons is here, of course, too -- from Reno. Jim. (Applause.)
I get the opportunity to work with Jim because he's a very important member of the House Intelligence Committee, and does great work for all of us.
I'm grateful, above all, to the leaders of the DAV for giving me the privilege of standing before so many American heroes and their families, and those who advocate for them. When dangerous enemies threatened our freedom, you stepped forward to serve. You put on our nation's uniform and stood ready to give your lives in defense of your fellow citizens. Your courage helped liberate millions suffering tyranny and persecution. And your determination secured a future of freedom for the American people. Our nation is grateful for your service and sacrifice. I'm honored to be in your presence, and I bring you greetings from our Commander-in-Chief, President George W. Bush. (Applause.)
We owe so much to all of our nation's 25 million veterans. But we owe a special debt to those veterans who return from war with injuries and disabilities. You have a special place in the hearts of the American people. Because of your wounds, you bear the price of freedom each and every day. And on behalf of a grateful nation, I'm here today to thank you for all you have given for the peace of the world and the security of our nation. (Applause.)
The DAV is one of America's great organizations, founded 84 years ago after the end of World War I. And given the honor of speaking at this convention, I cannot let the occasion pass without noting the recent loss of one of your earliest members. He was Al Pugh, from the state of Maine, who fought with the 77th Infantry in France, and was disabled for life by a mustard gas attack in the Argonne Forest. He was a man with a strong spirit, a good heart, and a great sense of humor. Al was often asked how he managed to live so long. He said, because the Lord ain't ready for me, and the devil won't have me. (Laughter.) Al Pugh was the last known surviving combat-wounded veteran of the First World War I. He lived until just before his 109th birthday, and his passing marks the end of an era. The United States of America honors his memory. (Applause.)
Those of you who served our nation so courageously in uniform, continue to serve in civilian life. Each year, volunteers from the Disabled American Veterans contribute nearly 2 million hours of their time, helping patients at VA medical facilities across America, transporting sick and disabled vets to and from their medical appointments, counseling and consoling families, running the DAV's annual winter sports clinic, which assists in the physical rehabilitation of handicapped veterans. Through these acts of compassion, you show that while America's enemies may have injured your bodies, they could not weaken your spirit, or dim your love of country, and your commitment to others. (Applause.)
By serving others, you carry on a long tradition that began with the founding members of this organization. Since then, each generation of disabled veterans has offered a helping hand to the next generation of wounded heroes returning home from battle. And today, as Americans return from the first war of the 21st century, you are reaching out to them and offering compassionate assistance. Many of those returning from Afghanistan and Iraq have come home severely wounded. If they had fought with you, in the wars of the 20th century, they might not have returned at all. Advances in body armor, dramatic improvements in battlefield medicine are saving lives that would otherwise be lost in battle. And for thousands of military families, this is a miracle. But it also means that more wounded and disabled veterans will need the help of the DAV as they adjust to life back home.
As Vice President, earlier as Secretary of Defense, I've had the privilege of visiting with wounded service members as they recovery, and their spirit is amazing. Facing pain, difficult therapy, and hard adjustments in their lives, they are upbeat, proud of their service, and committed to America's mission. Returning veterans are not only accepting your offers of assistance, but they, in turn, are helping others. Today, your National Commander welcomed the DAV's first three national service officers from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom -- Victor Thibeault, Steve Clark, and Karlo Sarmiento. The American people are grateful for their service on and off the field of battle. And we thank them for joining us today. (Applause.)
We can never repay our country's debt to Americans like these who were wounded and disabled in our nation's defense. But this much we promise you, we are working every day to improve the level of service we give disabled veterans, and to ensure that you always given the care you deserve and the respect you have earned. (Applause.)
America's veterans are a priority for President Bush. As a sign of his commitment to those who fought our nation's wars, President Bush selected a superb Secretary of Veterans Affairs, a combat-decorated, Vietnam veteran named Anthony Principi. (Applause.) The President gave Tony a clear mission: Take care of the people who defended America in her hour of need.
To fulfill that mission, our administration has increased the Veterans Affairs medical care budget by more than 40 percent. And if the President's 2005 budget request is approved by Congress, we will have increased spending for our nation's by $22 billion in the last four years, more than double the growth in spending during the previous eight years. (Applause.) These historic increases have allowed the VA to enrolled 2.5 million more veterans in health care services and increase out-patient visits from 44 million to 54 million. We've also been able to reduce the large backlog of disability claims that we found upon taking office by more than a third, and we're working to cut it even further. We've assigned some 1,800 workers to tackle the overload. And because of their efforts, we've cut the average time it takes to process disability claims by 70 days. And we expect to cut it even more before the end of the year. (Applause.)
As we've increased VA budgets, we've focused resources on the veterans who need it most -- those with service-related disabilities, low incomes, and special needs. We've established a new scheduling system to make certain that veterans seeking care for a service-connected condition are first in line. Under this administration, we're working to ensure that no veteran disabled in the service of our country will ever be turned away. (Applause.)
We recognize that our nation has a special responsibility to disabled veterans. And in keeping with that responsibility, President Bush signed into law concurrent receipt legislation. I'm also proud to report to you that since 2001, we've opened 194 new community-based clinics nationwide. We've also taken unprecedented steps to help homeless veterans. We've launched a $35 million program to provide permanent housing, health care, and other support services to our neediest veterans. And we've expanded community grants for assistance to homeless and mentally ill veterans in all 50 states, and Washington, D.C. These veterans fought for America in sweltering heat and bitter cold of foreign lands, they should not have to live without shelter, exposed to the elements in the nation they served. (Applause.)
President Bush also believes that veterans deserve 21st century health care facilities. Many of our VA hospitals were built before World War II, some even before World War I. They need modernizing, and we also need to build new ones, especially in the South and West, where increasing numbers of our veterans live. Through the CARES initiative, President Bush is seeking $1.5 billion in 2004 and 2005 to begin to modernize VA facilities, and to provide better care for veterans in areas where the need is growing. And even more money will be committed in the future.
We are working to improve care not only for our veterans, but for the families that depend on them. That is why last December President Bush signed the Veterans Benefits Act, authorizing $1 billion in new and expanded benefits for disabled veterans, surviving spouses, and their children. (Applause.) It was President Lincoln who stated our nation's pledge to "care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan." President Bush takes that pledge very seriously, and he is honoring it. Our message to America's veterans is this: We are grateful for your service; we owe you our freedom; you stood by your country; and now America will stand by you. (Applause.)
Through selfless service at home and abroad, veterans help shape the character of our nation. Their courage, honor, and life-long devotion to duty are an inspiration to our citizens, and especially to a new generation of Americans who are now defending the nation. You understand better than most the kinds of risk these young Americans are taking as they fight and win the war on terror. And I know you are doubly proud of each and every one of them. (Applause.)
We are living in a time of great challenge, facing an enemy today that is every bit as intent on destroying us as were the Axis powers in World War II, or the Soviet Union during the Cold War. We face an enemy that is perfectly prepared to slaughter anyone -- man, woman, or child -- to advance its cause. As we saw on the morning of 9/11, this is an enemy we cannot reason with, we cannot negotiate with, or appease. This is, to put it bluntly, an enemy that must be vanquished. (Applause.) Under the leadership of President George W. Bush, that is exactly what we will do. (Applause.)
The President is leading a steady, relentless and determined war on terror, and America is safer as a result. Consider for a moment where we were when President Bush and I took office January 20, 2001. As we were being sworn in that day, planning for the attack of 9/11 was already well underway. Hijackers had been recruited; funds raised; training had taken place. Some of the hijackers were already in the United States. In Afghanistan, the Taliban were in power. Al Qaeda was operating training camps that in the late '90s turned out an estimated 20,000 terrorists. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein was in power, overseeing one of the bloodiest regimes of the 20th century. He had started two wars, produced and used weapons of mass destruction, and was in repeated violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. He was providing safe haven and sanctuary and support for terrorists, and paying up to $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers. When President Bush and I took office, there was a serious problem with proliferation, especially in the nuclear area. A man named A.Q. Khan, the individual who put Pakistan's nuclear program in place, had established a network that was providing nuclear weapons technology to rogue states -- Iran, North Korea, and Libya. Moammar Ghadafi, the A.Q. Khan network's biggest customer, was spending millions to acquire nuclear weapons, the basic design, uranium feedstock, and centrifuges needed to enrich uranium.
The final problem was that the terrorists had learned two unfortunate lessons from the United States. When President Bush and I were sworn in, there was a pattern extending back many years that had convinced our enemies that they could attack the United States with impunity. They had attacked the World Trade Center for the first time in 1993. They attacked the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996; East Africa, our embassies simultaneously, in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998; and the USS Cole in 2000. And in none of these cases did we respond very forcefully. We treated each incident as a criminal matter, arrested a few individuals and sentenced them to long terms, but didn't understand that we had a much broader problem.
Our enemies also became convinced during these years that if they attacked the United States hard enough, if they inflicted sufficient casualties, they could even get us to change policy and withdraw, as we did in Beirut in 1983; and from Somalia, after they killed 19 of our soldiers in Mogadishu in 1993. From their perspective, it looked as though going after America was not only relatively painless, it was productive.
And then came September 11th, and it became clear to all of us that we were at war. Under the President's leadership, we moved to strengthen our defenses, to attack the financial networks that supported terrorists, and to improve our intelligence capabilities. No longer would attacks on America go unanswered. No longer would America wait for the next attack. (Applause.)
In what will surely rank as one of the most important strategic shifts in our nation's history, the President declared that we would take the war to the enemy. And he established the Bush doctrine, which holds that any person or regime that harbors or supports terrorists is equally guilty of terrorist crimes and will be held to account. (Applause.)
In Afghanistan, where al Qaeda terrorists trained and lived, the Taliban were the first to find out exactly what that new strategy means. Working with the Northern Alliance, we launched a military campaign of stunning effectiveness and, in a matter of weeks, drove the Taliban from power; captured or killed hundreds of al Qaeda; put Osama bin Laden on the run; and closed the camps that had trained terrorists to kill Americans. (Applause.)
Now, a new government has been established under President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. A nation is being rebuilt. Children are back in school. A new constitution has been written. And free elections will be held in Afghanistan this fall. (Applause.)
In Iraq, Saddam Hussein is in jail. (Applause.) His regime is gone. His sons are dead. Sovereignty has passed to a new interim government. And elections will be held there by next January. While a continuing U.S. and coalition presence will be required in Iraq, the Iraqis themselves are taking on more and more responsibility for their own country. (Applause.)
In Libya, Moammar Ghadafi, having witnessed our determination in Afghanistan and Iraq, has given up his nuclear ambitions. Five days after Saddam Hussein was captured, Colonel Ghadafi announced he would turn over all of his weapons of mass destruction materials. The designs, the uranium, the centrifuges now reside down at a U.S. facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. (Applause.)
And A.Q. Khan, the proliferator, is under house arrest in Pakistan. His network is being dismantled. The world's worst source of nuclear proliferation and of weapons technology has been shut down. (Applause.)
Three years ago, I think it would have been impossible to imagine these accomplishments. And our nation should be very proud of what we've done, not only because we've removed threats, but because we are helping these nations along the road to freedom.
A central fact that history teaches is that institutions of self-government turn human beings away from violence to the peaceful work of building better lives. Democracies do not breed the anger and the radicalism that drags whole societies to export violence. Terrorists do not find fertile recruiting grounds or welcome bases of operation in societies where young people have the right to guide their own destinies and choose their own leaders. We are safer now, but the danger to our country has not passed. Our enemies are still ruthless and determined. And they intend to strike America again. So we will continue to pursue our enemies at home and abroad while doing everything in our power to defend the homeland. The war on terror is well begun, but it has only begun. Victory will take years of sustained effort, and an unwavering commitment by the leaders of this nation. In these dangerous times, we are blessed to have so many brave soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, who have stepped forward to wear the uniform.
And before I close, I want to tell you the story of just one of these courageous Americans. Four years ago today, on July 31, 2000, a young man named Jason Dunham joined the United States Marine Corps. He joined Company K, Third Battalion, Seventh Marines as a machine gunner, and went to serve in Iraq. His enlistment was supposed to end last June, but he voluntarily extended because he loved his country, believed in his mission, and wanted to stay with his fellow Marines and see the job through. On April 14th of this year, Corporal Dunham was manning a roadside checkpoint when a suspicious car approached. Suddenly, a man burst from the vehicle and began sprinting away. Corporal Dunham went after him. In full combat gear, he caught the man and tackled him to the ground. A moment later as other Marines arrived to assist, the man took a grenade out of his pocket and pulled the pin. Without hesitating, Corporal Dunham dove on top of the grenade just before it went off, absorbing most of the blast with his own body, and saving the lives of his fellow Marines. He died 10 days later of his wounds. At a memorial service a few days later, more than 500 of his fellow service members gathered to pay their last respects. They lined up, one by one, to kiss his helmet and say farewell to a hero from their ranks. His death brought sorrow to his fellow Marines, but pride, as well. As one of Corporal Dunham's comrades put it, this generation of Marines is as good as any generation we've ever had in the Corps. (Applause.)
Our nation is free today because every generation since the War of Independence has produced heroes like Corporal Dunham, those willing to give up their own lives so that others can live in freedom. Each of you here today knows such heroes, friends or family who served in battle but never returned. We remember their service, and we honor their names, just as we remember the thousands like them last seen during their duty whose fate is still undetermined.
The best way we can honor Americans like Corporal Dunham and all those who have served and sacrificed in the around we face today is to complete the mission: To protect our people, defend our freedom, and secure a future of peace for the United States of America. And that is exactly what we intend to do.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END 10:15 A.M. PDT