Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs
Remarks by Secretary Eric K. Shinseki
Arlington National Cemetery
November 11, 2013
Mr. President, welcome. Thank you, the First Lady, and the Vice President and Dr. Biden for your leadership and your unwavering support of our Nation's Veterans, their families, and our survivors for many years now. Veterans Day is about celebrating and honoring our Veterans, who have given so much for the rest of us. When people ask me about values, I often point them to VA's budget and they get it—that for you, Veterans Day is not just a one-day-a-year event. It's an abiding commitment, every day of every year. That's what's reflected in your annual budget requests for VA—a commitment for every day of every year.
- Medal of Honor recipient Harold Fritz: We are honored by your service and heroism in battle. Thank you and others of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society for serving as our co-hosts this year;
- Welcome, as well, to other Veterans Service Organizations, and especially to all our Veterans, their families, and our survivors who are gathered here; it's wonderful to see all of you again;
- Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi; Congresswoman Hanabusa; other distinguished members of the Congress;
- Secretary Chuck Hagel, Vice Chairman Winnefeld, other members of the Defense leadership;
- Other distinguished members of the Cabinet, VA colleagues, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:
237 years ago, the leaders of this great Nation penned the magnificent words that would, in time, become both vision and conscience for a fledgling democracy: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
Through the centuries since, these oft-quoted words became the bedrock of our democracy. Young men and women have answered calls to arms to preserve and defend them. Each generation has done its part to pass a strong and free America to the next generation.
Last month, President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to former Army Captain Will Swenson for heroism and gallantry above and beyond the call of duty in the battle of Ganjgal Valley on September 8, 2009.
During 6 hours of intense combat, Captain Swenson did everything expected of leaders, and more—keeping his ambushed unit fighting effectively, directing all available fires, evacuating the wounded, and leading by example in repeatedly risking his personal safety to retrieve wounded Soldiers and Marines, Afghan allies, and fallen comrades—determination, decisiveness, personal toughness, calm under fire, and a willingness to risk it all for others.
Will Swenson would tell you that there were many more heroes in the Ganjgal that day.
The President understands what the recipients of the Medal of Honor mean to America, and above all he values what the service and sacrifice of all Veterans have meant to our Nation. That is why he has provided such strong personal leadership and unwavering support for this department. With the help of Congress, VA's budgets have steadily increased. His past five budget requests have sought to increase VA's resourcing by more than 55 percent.
As a result, we have enrolled two million more Veterans for VA healthcare; dropped the disability claims backlog by over 211,000 claims in the last 230 days; reduced Veterans' homelessness; and enrolled our one millionth Veteran into the new post 9-11 G.I. Bill education program.
Veterans could not ask for a stronger advocate than our President.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great personal and professional honor to present to you, our Commander-in-Chief—the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama.