November 10, 2003
Good day to everyone. It is a pleasure to be here to have this opportunity to answer your questions regarding veterans benefits and services. Tomorrow is Veterans Day and I will be honored to join the President to lay a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier and pay tribute to the 25 million living veterans and the 1 million soldiers who have died. It is a day of special meaning for all Americans as we commemorate the men and women who have served our nation in uniform.
Gary, from Garland Texas writes:
Mr. Secretary: As a veteren I was always told that my service to my country would not be ignored, forgotten and my need for Veterans Affairs Services would be provided. With that in mind, why is there such a concerted effort to close down many of the VA facilities that are vital to medical needs, and other services across the nation to our veterans?
Thank you for your email. Much of VAs infrastructure was built after WWI with another major expansion following WWII. Much has changed in health care delivery over the past two decades. As well as changing demographics of the veteran population. It is critically important that VA adapt its infrastructure to modern medicine and technology so that we can expand the reach of health care for our nation's veterans and remain on the cutting edge in the 21st century -- not the century gone by. It calls for a major expansion of the VA health care system in addition to realigning certain facilities.
Michael, from Houston writes:
What is the administration doing to help veterans combat the rising costs
of medical cost in our veterans administration hospitals?
Thank you Michael for your email. We are devoting time and energy to management and procurement reform to ensure that we use our size and purchasing power to command the greatest discounts from pharmaceutical manufacturers as well as in the area of surgical supplies and high tech equipment. As a result, we have saved billions of dollars over the past decade, resources that can be used to expand the reach of health care for our nation's veterans.
Randy, from Pensacola Florida writes:
Mine is not so much a question as a comment. I appreciate your support in the
many VA issues and especially Concurrent Receipt. I firmly believe that
when the 2004 bill is signed into law that the number of homeless Veterans
will drop, and very possibly the case load at the many clinics and
hospitals, as more veterans get on their feet and realize they will be able
to afford more toward their health care. Morale among veterans is a huge
issue and this too will see an upward trend. I feel for the veterans who feel
they are being "left behind" as one veteran put it to me the other day at a
veterans function. My heart went out to the man for his anger and
hostitlity, I was unable to talk with him, but said a prayer that his life
will get better. Another veteran knew nothing of CRSC and how to get it, this
gentleman sat in a wheel chair with both legs missing, from schrapnel.
Hopefully I can get him and his family in the right direction. Now with the
push for 50 and higher to receive concurrent receipt, it is time to work
toward returning all disabled veterans retirement pay. Thank you and God
A retired Air Force Vet, striving to help other Vets
Thanks for your email on concurrent receipts. I am extremely proud that President Bush is the first President in 100 years -- Democrat or Republican -- to step up to the plate and sign into law legislation overturning a century old prohibition on military retirees receiving both disability compensation and retirement pay. This is a precedent setting development and we should be grateful to the President.
Sandy, from Wrightsville, PA writes:
How can businesses and individuals help the families that have loved ones
serving overseas? We would like to offer gifts, food, etc. but don't know
where to start. A direct initiative for families at Christmas would be
helpful. We want to show our support as much as possible. Would it be
possible to have the servicemen e-mail requests to purchase specific
gifts for their wiveschildren, to a group so that we can deliver Christmas
to their families even though they are not around to shop?
Thanks for your generosity and concern with our men and women serving overseas. Please contact the USO in your community or nearest military base as they coordinate the delivery care packages to our forces overseas. As the father of two young men in uniform, I can assure you that receiving a care package from home, loved ones and American citizens is a very moving testament to the American people.
Dave, from Issaquah, WA writes:
When will the President's Veteran's Day Proclamation be available? I'd
like to use it during a Boeing Veteran's Day observance tomorrow.
The President's proclamation can be found here.
Happy Veterans Day Dave
Steven, from Maryland writes:
What specific topics and issues do you discuss with the President at
Also, do you work closely with Secretarys of Defense, HUD, and HHS in VA's
mission to serve our veterans?
Each cabinet meeting covers different subjects. Oftentimes, the President will ask me how well Secretary Rumsfeld and I are working to reduce the barriers to ensure that service members have seamless transition to the VA system. I work very closely with my counterparts, Secretary Rumsfeld, Sec Thompson at HHS to coordinate the delivery of benefits and services.
Joyce, from Singapore writes:
Good afternoon sir I know that Veteran's Day falls on 11th Nov. So my
question is, what is veteran's day all about? Thanks alot and have a great
day God bless the President and First Lady.
Veterans Days always falls on the 11th hour, on the 11th day of the 11th month. That is the time and date when the Armistice was signed to end WW1. In 1954, Congress converted Armistice day to Veterans day to commemorate the service and sacrifice of all men and women who wear the uniform.
Clarence, from Ohio writes:
Is this country prepared for the massive amount of Veterans that will be
produced due to the wars we are fighting now? Or are more cuts in the
Veteran's benefits coming?
Thanks for your email. Let me assure you that there have been NO cuts in VA benefits. I regret this misinformation is being perpetuated for political gain. Since President Bush came into office in 2001 my budget has increased from 48 billion to 65 billion in a short three years. That is the largest increase in the history of the VA. WE are well prepared for the men and women who are serving in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Fortunately, unlike WWII, Korea and Vietnam, the numbers of returning troops are relatively small and certainly within our capacity to provide them with care if they turn to us.
Tom, from Manassas, Virginia writes:
Mr. Secretary, why do we continue to see a decline in the services afforded
veterans? I think that we owe all veterans affordable health care for any
service-connected injury, regardless of any other circumstance. We
continue to see cuts in the services to veterans and I am very concerned. As a
30 year veteran, a taxpayer, and a voter, I want you to know that I think we, as
a country, have an obligation to the Veterans to take care of them after they
have served our country with honor and distinction. I know you are only part
of the solution, but I would respectfully ask that you continue to press for
increases in the budget for your Department. I have communicated these
same concerns to my elected State officials.
Please see Clarence's response above. WE care very deeply about veterans benefits and are treating 1 million more veterans today than 3 years ago. Our backlog in disability claims have come down dramatically so that veterans are receiving more timely decisions on their claims.
Jesse, from North Carolina
Dear Mr Principi-
In an age of less money and increasing veteran needs, how is the VA planning
on adjusting to the influx of Iraqi Freedom veterans given the seemingly
long-term nature of our involvement overseas? Is there likely to be an
increase in funding to the VA given our most recent war on terror, or will you
be expected to do more with less.
The VA seems at the forefront of health screening for mental health and
chronic medical conditions. Is there evidence to show that these yearly
screenings have yielded improved overall health outcomes (beyond simply
satisfying the screening requirements)?
Thank you for your email. See my response above in regards to the record budget increases that we've received since President Bush came into office.
SABAHAT, from CHICAGO, ILLINOIS
What is the approximate budget that the Veterans Affairs department
provides for benefits and various programs throughout the country?
The budget for my department will be approximately $65 billion as soon as the Congress passes our current year appropriations bill and sends it to the President. The President's request for the VA for this fiscal year was the 2nd largest of all cabinet departments. Only exceeded by DOD. I'm grateful for the President's compassion and generosity for the veterans of our nation.
Michelle, from palm desert, ca writes:
Dear Mr. Principi: What is being done to improve the conditions in the
nation's Veteran's Hospitals, and is there any legislation being put
forth to increase the monetary benefits to families who have lost their
loved ones in combat?
WE are constantly striving to improve the conditions of all our VA hospitals. I'm proud of the tremendous advances we have made and now lead the nation in 18 quality indicators reflecting on the quality of care we provide. Monetary benefits for survivors are adjusted periodically and every year an adjustment for inflation is made to survivor benefits.
Jordan, from Seattle, WA writes:
I have heard rumors that instituting the draft is being reviewed as an
option. I have a two part question: Is there any truth to these rumors, and
secondly, what would the process be if the draft was intiated?
Some members of Congress have embraced the concept of a draft however I do not believe Congress will pass legislation to reinstitute it. At this point there is no serious consideration given to a return to the draft. I believe all Americans believe that the men and women who comprise today's all volunteer force have performed magnificently in combat.
Dave, from Kansas City Mo
Well I've heard several reports on CNN and MSNBC as well as Fox News,and
various news related magazines,( Time ,News Week),........ That our
"Gulf War Veterans" are not being treated for some of the symptoms they
recieved when stationed over in Iraq during the first go around back in the
early 90s Why are they being denied treatment ?
No veteran is being denied treatment for Persian Gulf Syndrome. We are conducting significant research into the causes of Persian Gulf Syndrome and until such time as we have scientific answers we will continue to care for all service members who need our help.
Ron, from Kansas writes:
When are we going to stop getting our soldiers killed in Iraq. The people
over there don't want us in there country.They love it when our choppers go
down and the Iraq people openly express great joy at seeing our people die.
Where does it all stop or does it ever?
All Americans mourn the loss of our service members in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, I strongly believe that the overwhelming number of Iraqi people are profoundly grateful that America has freed them from an oppressive and tyrannical dictator who preferred to kill their own people than improve their lives. America is once again demonstrating its commitment to freedom and dignity for all peoples around the world.
wa, from Ft Sam Houston, Tx
Sir: I am an active Army soldier. I put in an application DEC 02 for a fiancee visa
for my fiancee from China. I just got back from a 10-month-long deployment
of supporting of OEF and OIF. It has been 1 year. I haven't received the visa
date. Should an active duty soldier have the priority?
I deeply regret the problem you are having with obtaining a fiancee visa. Thank you for your tremendous service to America. Please contact Debbie Bevins at 202 273 4800 to determine the status of your visa and assist if possible.
Merinda, from Syracuse, NY writes:
Why is the VA hospital (Soldiers and Sailors) in Western NY threatened with
closure? Our veterans served this country, many volunteering and risking
their lives, and are an aging population. Many veterans can wait weeks to
get an appointment with a VA doctor. How will closing this hospital make the
situation any better? At the same time this facility is threatened with
closure, the VA hosptial in Syracuse has scheduled an emergency room to
open back up after millions of dollars of renovations. What is the rational
behind allocation of funds to the different facilities.
Thanks for your email. We are attempting to modernize its vast infrastructure to meet the changes in modern medicine and the demographics of the population. The GAO has reported that we waste a million dollars a day, or 365 million a year, to heat or maintain empty buildings. Monies which could be used to further the reach of health care for our veterans. These are difficult decisions but we must modernize to improve health care in the 21st century.
rick, from cleveland , ohio writes:
Dear Sir, I am a veteran . What steps are you taking to ensure that the VA will
remain a viable option for veterans, both now and into the future? My son is
now a vet and I want to make sure that the VA continues on Thanks for this
opportunity GOD BLESS OUR TROOPS and GOD BLESS PRESIDENT BUSH Rick
Thanks for your service and that of your son.
Please know that my two sons are on active duty today and I feel very strongly that the VA will be there for them. I can assure you that President Bush and members of congress have taken steps to enhance the budget of the VA over the past 3 years. I'm confident that we will continue to do so over the years ahead.
Angie, from Derby, KS writes:
Dear Mr. Principi,
I would like to know if you received my letter dated 92703 regarding the
death of my son, Dustin? I would like to hear back
I deeply regret the loss of your son. And I will have my staff immediately look into your letter. Please contact Debbie Bevins at 202 273 4800.
Again, my deepest condolences to you and your family. I pray that you will find comfort in the memories of your son and of the sacrifices he made on behalf of a grateful nation.
Jeanne, from Andover, MA
Thank you for your service to this country Mr. Principi. I am grateful to the
nations veterans every day, not just Veteran's day. What are your top
priorities leading the Veteran's Affairs Department?
Thank you for your email. I am humbled to serve as Secretary of the Department charged with caring for our nation's veterans. My top priorities as Secretary is to obtain the resources necessary to care for as many veterans who come to us and to ensure that we are providing outstanding service to the 25 million men and women who have worn our nation's uniform.
CH, from Camp Phoenix, Afghanistan writes:
Sir, My Commander, a Brigagier General, expects to read the President's
Veterans Day Proclamation at 111100NOV03 - in Kabul, Afghanistan We are 9
12 hrs AHEAD of Washington, DC
When will the President's Veterans Day Proclation be released?
Thank you for your service for our nation and I trust you are well. The President's proclamation can be found by clicking here.
It has been a pleasure to be on "Ask the White House." Tomorrow is a day of meaning memories and celebration as well as honor the men and women who served in uniform. I will make every effort to respond to all the emails we received today and hope to get you a response in the near future. Please check back on this transcript for future responses. Thanks again for your participation.