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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
Jim Nicholson
Secretary of Veterans Affairs

May 31, 2005

Jim Nicholson
Good afternoon. I’m Secretary of Veterans Affairs R. James Nicholson. This past weekend, America paused at sites all across the Nation for our annual observance of Memorial Day.

Memorial Day began in 1868 when veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic began decorating the graves of Civil War dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John Logan declared it should be on May 30 because flowers would then be in bloom across the country.

It was widely known as Decoration Day until 1971 when Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to honor those who died in all American wars. In 2000, Congress passed “The National Moment of Remembrance Act” with the intent of “encouraging the people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity.” The National Moment of Remembrance encourages all Americans to pause wherever they are at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day for a minute of silence to remember and honor those who have died in service to the nation, and I’d like to say ‘Thank You’ to those who took part in that observance Monday.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, I did many interviews in the media on the meaning and importance of this somber observance. USA Today printed my letter to their editors about Memorial Day, and I spread the same message in network and cable television news appearances, on network radio newscasts and on national talk radio shows, so I’m looking forward to your questions today.

Raaya, from Giddings, Tx writes:
I am in hight school taking government and I have a few simple questions to ask you.1. As the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, what is your job discription? 2. What kind of thing do you have in plan for our the Veterans of the United States of America 3. How might this help the upcomming generation(s) of the United States of America? Thank you for your time and I would also thanks you for taking care of the veterans because my uncle and my grandfather are both vets of previous wars and battles of the United States of America.(Cold War, and World War II) Again thank you for your service(s).


Jim Nicholson
Hi Raaya,

As Secretary of Veterans Affairs, I have what I believe to be the noblest mission in the entire Cabinet -- to provide for the care and benefits that our veterans have earned in service to our Nation, and to ensure that those who died in that service are never forgotten. We are currently working very closely with the Department of Defense to ensure that our newest veterans, those returning from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, have what we call a "seamless transition" from the active duty military to civilian life with the full array of VA benefits they have earned coming to them as soon as they leave service. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Veterans Affairs will provide comprehensive health care services to more than five million veterans this year; administer education benefits that will help veterans get their college degree; guarantee tens of thousands of home loans for veterans and their families. These returning veterans took time away from their civilian lives to serve us. Now, it’s turn to serve them.

Tighe, from Arlington, VA writes:
Jim, worked for you at the RNC . . . glad you are at the VA You took on the third hardest job in the government, next to the President and the coach of the Redskins What do you plan to do to ensure that the families of those killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan get all the benefits they are entitled to?

Jim Nicholson
Our duty to the survivors of those who have fallen in the line of duty is a solemn responsibility. We have VA benefits counselors posted at military hospitals, bases and ships at sea, and around the world. We help those who are recovering from wounds, about to be discharged and the families of those who have died apply for their benefits and ensure they get what has been earned in service to country as expeditiously as possible. In a way, these web chats are part of our plan too. By using every means available, I want to let veterans, their families and their friends know that VA is here to help.

Sheila, from Grand Rapids, Michigan writes:
Secretary Nicholson,I read your name in one of the photo credits by the President at yesterday's Arlington National Cemetary event.

In addition to participating in the event with the President, what other events did you attend throughout the weekend to commemorate Veterans?

Thank you very much for serving our country.

Jim Nicholson

In addition to the Arlington National Cemetery event with President Bush, I attended a prayer breakfast at the White House and also addressed a large gathering at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. We also had key officials of the Department of Veterans Affairs participating in observances at our 120 national cemeteries across the country.

William, from Miami FL writes:
How can we honor Veterans in our daily life? I would like to know how I can help at a hospital, or in my community, or for Veterans overseas but not sure how to get started.

Jim Nicholson

Thank you for asking a great question. The easiest and most effective way in which to help our veterans is by volunteering at your local VA medical center. The need for volunteers has never been greater, and no one is more appreciative than our hospitalized veterans. You seem to know your way around a computer pretty well, so you might start by visiting Click on our “Health Benefits and Services” section on the home page and follow the “Locate a VA Medical Center” link to our map of the United States. Just click on your home state and you can find contact information for all Veterans Affairs facilities. You can also call toll-free, 1-800-827-1000 and ask for the VA hospital nearest you.

Kent, from Cleveland writes:
Dear Mr. Nicholson,I'm guessing you have visited many memorials for Veterans both in our country and throughout the world. What do you think has been the most memorable location you have visited?

I'm sure they are all very moving to personally experience.

Thank you, Kent.

Jim Nicholson
Dear Kent,

It's hard to express my feelings of standing next to the President of the United States as he places a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. It is an incredibly special place, dating back as far as it does in American history and being the eternal resting place of so many heroes. I remember a few years ago when Hurricane Isabel was bearing down on Washington and the soldiers who guard the Tomb of the Unknowns refused to leave their post, even as the storm raged on. That is the sort of dedication inspired by the Tomb of the Unknowns and it’s a source of pride for all Americans.

Gladys, from Quebec,Canada writes:
Did the Memorial Day give you a different perspective this year from previous years before 911 when we hear of brave men and women sacrificing their lives for freedom and for their country?

Jim Nicholson

I think it is important for all of us to remind ourselves that we are engaged in a very demanding war. More than 1,700 Americans have fallen in the Global War on Terrorism and we owe it to them and their families to never forget what they did for our Nation. Memorial Day is always a time of remembrance, but it’s during times like we’re living in today that we are especially reminded of the high price of freedom and the enormous burden shouldered by all our men and women in uniform.

Leonard, from Arizona writes:
Mr. Secretary,Is it tradition for all Presidents to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery? Thank you, Leonard

Jim Nicholson
It’s been a tradition for more than 85 years. Every American president since Warren Harding in 1921 has visited Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. I’m proud to have been part of such an esteemed American tradition.

Adam, from Milwaukee, WI writes:
Mr. Nicholson, How many additional flags do you estimate are hung in Arlington Cemetery during the Memorial Day weekend to honor members of our military? Is there any significance in that number?

Jim Nicholson
Aside from the American flags that fly every day at Arlington National Cemetery, an additional 210,000 flags are presented on Memorial Day – one flag for each gravesite in the cemetery.

Kirk, from Milwaukee, WI writes:
Mr. Secretary: How many people were present yesterday to witness President Bush's laying of a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? Were they mainly members of the military and their families?

Jim Nicholson
There were about 300 people present for the laying of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, with some military families and the general public. There was also another observance in the Arlington Amphitheater, with about 6,000 people in attendance. Again, it was open to the general public, with some military mixed in with the crowd and some representatives of a number of veteran service organizations.

Jim Nicholson
As I said in one of my responses, I think it is important for all of us to remind ourselves that we are engaged in a very demanding and challenging war. More than 1,700 Americans have fallen in the Global War Against Terrorism and we owe it to them and their families to never forget what they did for our Nation.

As for the living, we’ve already treated more than 63,000 OIF/OEF veterans in the Veterans Affairs health care system. Caring for our Nation’s veterans is our mission at VA – but you can help too. I encourage all of you to consider volunteering at VA facilities to help those who have served and sacrificed for all of us. They deserve nothing less than our best efforts. Thank you!