Remarks by Max Cleland, Administrator of Veterans Affairs
Veterans Day National Ceremony
Arlington National Cemetery
November 11, 1980
ADMINISTRATOR CLELAND: "The sacrifice which they collectively made was individually repaid to them; for they received again each one for himself a praise which grows not old, and the noblest of all sepulchers -- I speak not of that in which their remains are laid, but of that in which their glory survives, and is proclaimed always and on every fitting occasion both in word and deed. For the whole earth is the sepulcher of famous men; not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions in their own country, but in foreign lands there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts of men."
These moving words were written 25 centuries ago by the Greek historian Thucydides as a tribute in the Funeral Speech of Pericles to the fallen heroes of the Peloponnesian War.
But they are germane to Veterans Day 1980, with its theme: "A Grateful Nation Remembers.” For, in addition to participating in this national ceremony, which affirms that a grateful people do indeed remember, we have built in our hearts and minds a memorial of love and pride and gratitude to all of America's veterans -- living and dead -- for their service and sacrifice.
On this Veterans Day, we publicly recognize and proclaim that America became and remains a free nation under God because of our veterans. And we acknowledge -- as did the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln -- that the American people have a special obligation to our veterans.
Recall these words of Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address:
"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan -- to do all which may achieve a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations."
In a moment I want to address some specifics of the care which our veterans are receiving from the Veterans Administration. First, however, I would remind you of another mandate given to us by Lincoln in a brief address on a November day much like this, I imagine, at a cemetery and former battlefield in Pennsylvania. Tens of millions of America's war veterans to whom we pay deserved, special tribute today have not only accepted this mandate. They have given their lives or years of their lives to bring it to fruition.
You remember, I am certain, these words from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address:
"… We are met on a great battlefield…. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate -- we cannot consecrate -- we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.
The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the. earth."
The Veterans Administration was established 50 years ago to translate into meaningful, truly helpful assistance to our veterans and their families the care to which Lincoln committed us in his Second Inaugural Address.
Permit me to highlight quickly the principal benefits and services provided our veterans and their families by the agency I am privileged to head.
Let me begin by pointing out that today the VA is serving the greatest number of veterans and veterans' dependents and survivors in the agency's history. The scope and variety of assistance programs for these beneficiaries are also unprecedented.
On this Veterans Day, we see that the VA, with more than 240,000 employees, has the second largest work force in the entire federal government. Only the Department of Defense has more employees.
VA's record-high requested budget of approximately $22 billion for this year -- Fiscal 1981 -- is the government's fifth largest. Highest-ever expenditures of $6 billion for VA hospital and medical care are called for in this budget.
With this funding, the VA this year will provide inpatient hospital care for 1.2 million veterans and handle upwards of 17.5 million outpatient visits, both record totals.
This year the Department of Medicine and Surgery will also:
- Expand its work force to an all-time high 190,000 employees;
- Spend more than $100 million for VA medical and prosthetics research, with added emphasis being given to research in such critical areas as spinal cord injury, total rehabilitation and aging;
- Train more than 100,000 physicians, dentists, nurses and other health care personnel -- a record number -- in VA medical centers;
- Intensify and accelerate where possible the construction of seven replacement and one new medical center authorized four years ago.
On related medical fronts, the VA this year will continue to give priority support to the readjustment counseling program for Vietnam era veterans, which went into operation October 1, 1979, and which has opened about 90 storefront Vet Centers in more than 50 cities where Vietnam era veterans can obtain the special help they need without encountering bureaucratic red tape.
Finally, in the area of health care, this year we will give increased emphasis to the VA's alcohol and drug abuse treatment programs, which now have more than 100 alcohol and 50 drug abuse treatment centers in operation throughout the country.
To be complete, our examination on this Veterans Day of the VA care "… for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan..." must at least recognize the agency's other principal benefit and service programs.
For example, this year more than half of the VA's entire budget of nearly $22 billion will go for disability and death compensation and pension payments to almost five million disabled veterans and survivors. Compensation benefits were increased effective October 1, 1980, marking the fourth consecutive year that these rates were raised. The four separate increases aggregate approximately 40 percent.Under the improved pension program for nonservice connected disabled veterans and survivors in financial need, which went into effect January 1, 1979, pension increases are tied to Social Security increases and become effective automatically at the same time as hikes in Social Security benefits. This past June 1, pension payments to more than 300,000 beneficiaries covered by the improved pension program were boosted 14.3 percent.
Participation in the current GI Bill education and training program for Vietnam era veterans and eligible active duty military personnel has been declining in recent years. However, the current GI Bill has been the most successful by far of the three programs for World War II, Korean Conflict and Vietnam era veterans.
About 65 percent of eligible Vietnam era veterans has taken training under their program, compared with participation rates of 50 percent for World War II veterans and approximately 43.4 percent for Korean Conflict veterans. The nearly 4.6 million Vietnam era veterans who have trained at the college level exceed by more than one million the combined total of 3.4 million World War II and Korean Conflict veterans who trained at the college level.
Under the three GI Bills, nearly 18 million World War II, Korean Conflict and Vietnam era veterans have furthered their education and training. In so doing, they have enriched their lives and raised the standard of living for themselves and their families.
In addition to the GI Bill, the VA provides vocational rehabilitation training for service-connected disabled veterans and educational assistance for the eligible sons and daughters, widows and wives of veterans who died as a result of military service or are totally and permanently disabled due to military service.
For millions of World War II, Korean Conflict and Vietnam era veterans, evidence that "A Grateful Nation Remembers" is their homes, purchased with the help of loans guaranteed by the VA under the three GI Bills. Cumulatively, since this program began 36 years ago, the VA has guaranteed more than 10.8 million home loans, valued in excess of $182 billion. To this total will be added about 360,000 loans, valued at approximately $20 billion, which the VA estimates it will guarantee this year.
For more than four million World War I, World War II and Korean Conflict veterans, the gratitude of their nation finds expression in the government life insurance policies which they have kept in force. This year's dividend on these policies is a record $566 million.
Since the Veterans Administration took over jurisdiction of the National Cemetery System from the Department of the Army seven years ago, total acreage of the system has been more than doubled, increasing from more than 4,000 to more than 9,000 acres today. The number of potential gravesites has also been more than doubled, going from more than 2 million to 4.4 million.
Five huge new national cemeteries in California, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia have been added to the System. The cemeteries in California, New York and Massachusetts are open for interments, with the cemeteries in Pennsylvania and Virginia scheduled to be open in 1982. Further, the VA has selected sites at Fort Custer, Michigan, and Fort Gillem, Georgia, for two more national cemeteries.
In addition to operating the National Cemetery System, which, of course, involves interments and the maintenance of the cemeteries and graves in a manner befitting the service and sacrifice of our deceased veterans, the VA's Department of Memorial Affairs furnishes headstones and markers for veterans' graves in other cemeteries as well as national cemeteries. These headstones and markers underscore in yet one more way the truth that a Grateful Nation Remembers -- and helps you and me and our fellow Americans remember these patriots.
I want to close by quoting from President Carter's 1980 Veterans Day Proclamation. It reminds us that we must honor our veterans as they deserve, "not only with special ceremonies, not only through our support of veterans' benefits and services, but also by committing ourselves anew to the task of ensuring that the freedoms they helped to preserve and the nation they fought to defend will be safe and secure for future generations of Americans.”
Let us pay our veterans the honor they truly want and deserve. Let us leave here resolved to meet the commitment the president asks of us on their behalf.