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Remarks of the President at Department of Veterans Affairs
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. To Jim Benson for helping to organize this; for Mahdee for your service to our country — a Pledge of Allegiance that you’ve shown in your own commitment to protecting this country; and obviously, to Secretary Shinseki. It is an honor to join you and the hardworking public servants here at the Department of Veterans Affairs as we mark a milestone in the distinguished history of this department.
You know, 20 years ago, on the day the Veterans Administration was officially elevated to a Cabinet-level agency and renamed the Department of Veterans Affairs, a ceremony was held to swear in the administrator of the old entity as Secretary of the new one. And in his remarks that day, President George H.W. Bush declared that the mission of this agency is “so vital that there’s only one place for the veterans of America: in the Cabinet Room, at the table with the President of the United States of America.” I could not agree more.
I could not be more pleased that Eric Shinseki has taken a seat at that table. Throughout his long and distinguished career in the Army, Secretary Shinseki won the respect and admiration of our men and women in uniform because they’ve always been his highest priority — and he has clearly brought that same sense of duty and commitment to the work of serving our veterans.
As he knows, it’s no small task. This department has more than a quarter of a million employees across America, and its services range from providing education and training benefits, health care and home loans, to tending those quiet places that remind us of the great debt we owe — and remind me of the heavy responsibility that I bear. It’s a commitment that lasts from the day our veterans retire that uniform to the day that they are put to rest — and that continues on for their families.
Without this commitment, I might not be here today. After all, my grandfather enlisted after Pearl Harbor and went on to march in Patton’s Army. My grandmother worked on a bomber assembly line while he was gone. My mother was born at Fort Leavenworth while he was away. When my grandfather returned, he went to college on the GI Bill; bought his first home with a loan from the FHA; moved his family west, all the way to Hawaii, where he and my grandmother helped to raise me.
And I think about my grandfather whenever I have the privilege of meeting the young men and women who serve in our military today. They are our best and brightest, and they’re our bravest — enlisting in a time of war; enduring tour after tour of duty; serving with honor under the most difficult circumstances; and making sacrifices that many of us cannot begin to imagine. The same can be said of their families. As my wife, Michelle, has seen firsthand during visits to military bases across this