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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Denis R. McDonough

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors
27th Annual National Military Survivor Seminar (Virtual)
May 29, 2021

Good evening, and congratulations on your 27th Annual National Military Survivor Seminar. It’s a privilege to be invited to share some time with you as we start this vitally important celebration of our heroes who died while serving or having served this great country.

I am so inspired by the TAPS’ story. It’s a vibrant, 27-year story about miraculous transformation of the pain and grief of loss into a thriving, generous network of abiding love, compassion, and advocacy. And it’s a powerful, uplifting story of courageous survivors like you remembering the love, celebrating the lives, and sharing the journeys of your beloved Veterans, our nation’s Veterans.

So, to my dear friend and dedicated VA partner Bonnie Carroll and everyone at the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors—thank you. Thank you for your leadership, thank you for your commitment, and thank you for your enduring partnership. You are all a family, together this weekend honoring your loved ones and remembering their lives and selfless service.

President Biden, a survivor himself, has said that our country’s most sacred obligation is to prepare and equip the troops we send into harm’s way, and then to care for them and their families when they come home. When it comes to fulfilling that obligation—caring for our Veterans and their survivors—there’s no better partner than TAPS. And at VA, we’ll move heaven and earth to help make sure you and your families have seamless access to the wide range of VA services and benefits your loved ones earned, and that you deserve.

In fact, TAPS is in daily contact with Ann Duff and our Office of Survivor Assistance that provides access to benefits like Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, Servicemembers Group Life Insurance, and health care services through VA’s Civilian Health and Medical Program, also known as CHAMPVA.

VA education benefits like Survivors and Dependents Education Assistance, the GI-Bill, and Fry Scholarships can help with your education goals, college and graduate degree program costs, career training, certificate courses, career counseling, on-the-job training, and apprenticeships. If you’re launching or growing your career in fields like software programming, data science, and engineering, Edith Nourse Rogers STEM Scholarships can help there, too. For you Veterans and future Veterans, VET TEC is a great resource. And to provide responsive support, in partnership with TAPS, we’ve established the survivors-only option at our Education Call Center.

For Veterans’ caregivers, our Caregiver Support Program staff can help ease the transition from the caregiver role to the role of survivor by connecting survivors with support during bereavement.

And we are proud to help you honor your loved ones, many resting in one of our beautiful national cemeteries, with lasting tributes to their selfless service. That’s a dignified memorial service, headstone, marker or medallion, burial flag, and Presidential Memorial Certificates.

And our Vet Centers are there for you, too, offering parents, spouses, children, and loved ones bereavement counseling, regardless of how a service member passed in service to this country.

So many are impacted by the loss of a Veteran or service member. Caring for grieving survivors, including those who have lost a loved one by suicide, is about prevention, intervention, and important postvention support that is too-often overlooked. So, VA worked closely with TAPS in designing our Postvention Toolkit for Survivors, because of the expertise and lived experiences that TAPS brings.

And our Veterans Crisis Line responders are partnered with TAPS’ National Military Survivor Helpline for crisis care. Likewise, TAPS Helpline professionals are partnered with us. And together, they provide warm handoffs to make sure survivors who reach out to get the right assistance and support they need, get it quickly.

All of which is to say, with TAPS’ strong partnership, VA can be the nation’s premier advocate for Veterans, their families, their caregivers, and you, their survivors.

Finally, our nation is making progress fighting the pandemic. But anyone not yet vaccinated is still at risk of contracting COVID-19, and still risks transmitting it to a loved one. That’s why we’ve implemented an aggressive public health response, to help care for you and for your loved ones. In fact, now all Veterans, Veterans’ spouses, Veterans’ caregivers, and CHAMPVA recipients can get a COVID-19 vaccine at VA for free. Don’t wait. Join the more than 2.5 million Veterans we’ve fully vaccinated. Just go to your VA facility's vaccine clinic during walk-in hours, call to schedule an appointment, or visit VA.Gov/COVIDVaccine. It’s that easy.

We owe that to every Veteran, and we owe that to each of you. And here’s why. The peace and freedom we enjoy as Americans have been secured by the sacrifices of generations of Veterans, many of whom brought the war back home with them. Their sacrifices, and your enormous sacrifices, have advanced our founding principles, ideals, beliefs, and values as a nation. So this Memorial Day, we join you in moments of reverent silence, in paying tribute to all those who chose to serve principles greater than self.

And listen. Those millions of flags we see adorning rows and rows of Veterans’ headstones across the hallowed hills of Arlington, in our VA national cemeteries, and in community cemeteries large and small, they aren’t about how those Veterans died. They’re about how they lived. They’re about how they served. They’re about how they are loved, and about how they loved this country.

The lesson for us all is that love lives on, and each of you is the manifestation of your Veteran’s love living on. We are all richer for your journeys of courage, strength, and generosity.

May God bless our troops, our Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors.

And may we always give them, and always give you, our very best.