Remarks by Secretary Robert Wilkie - Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs
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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Robert Wilkie

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS)
26th Annual National Military Survivor Seminar (Virtual)
Washington, DC
May 23, 2020

Hello, I’m Robert Wilkie.

Congratulations on coming together virtually for TAPS’ 26th Annual National Military Survivor Seminar. Bonnie [Carroll, TAPS President and Founder], thank you for inviting me, and my deep thanks to the entire TAPS team for making this important meeting happen in spite of the COVID crisis.

Because of your work, we are close partners, listening and responding to the unique needs of the families of our fallen heroes. And I was glad to see that VA and TAPS renewed and expanded our Memorandum of Agreement so we can continue to collaborate closely.

Monday is Memorial Day, a day of powerful meaning for you and for VA. It was at the end of the bloody Civil War when families of the fallen, both blue and gray, gathered in cemeteries to pray and take flowers to their loved ones’ graves. From those solemn gatherings, our modern Memorial Day ceremonies arose.

And when President Lincoln spoke near the end of the war, he gave us a mission we’re still following today. In his Second Inaugural Address, President Lincoln reminded Americans about our debt to those who defend freedom. He charged us to care for those “who shall have borne the battle,” and for their families, their caregivers, and their survivors. More than 150 years later, we’re modernizing VA so Lincoln’s promise can be delivered to today’s Veterans, today’s survivors, and all those we serve.

Today, VA provides direct financial support to more than 600,000 survivors. Let me give you one, quick example. Zoe Evans is the daughter of Chief Warrant Officer 2 Mark Evans. We lost Chief Evans in 2004 in an aviation accident. This coming fall, Zoe will be able to attend Princeton University thanks, in part, to her Chapter 35 benefits. She plans to study pre-med and use her Fry Scholarship for medical school. Perhaps we’ll see Zoe caring for Veterans at VA a few years down the road.

Zoe and survivors like her can afford their education, in part, because of the benefits this nation and VA affords Veterans’ families – caring, again, for those who have “borne the battle.” But caring for you today means something different than it meant in Lincoln’s day. It means covering the cost of tuition, housing, books, and supplies for traditional degrees, non-college degrees, and even on-the-job training and apprenticeships; providing benefits to advance a career or provide supplementary income; offering employment services, healthcare, and guaranteed VA home loans; providing survivors pensions.

In fact, VA is honored to still be providing benefits to Ms. Irene Triplett, the daughter of a Civil War soldier, and offering the resources you need as you navigate your life’s journey. Our Office of Survivor Assistance (OSA) published a Survivors Journey Map and offers Quick Start Guides that have helped thousands of families access benefits. And each year, that office answers more than 10,000 of your calls and emails and participates in dozens of outreach events to keep you informed about survivor benefits. In recent weeks, when eligibility questions arose about the CARES Act stimulus checks, OSA helped you find answers. In short, we remain committed to all of you and to our vital, productive partnership with TAPS.

Let me close with this thought. On the night before the Allied airborne assault on Hitler’s Fortress Europe, one of our greatest generals Matthew Ridgway turned to the Old Testament for strength. He relied on God’s promise to Joshua that “I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.”

VA will not fail or forsake you, nor our Veterans.

Stay safe. Take good care of yourselves, and each other. And have a successful, productive seminar and a meaningful, comforting Memorial Day.