REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY
AT DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS AGENCY VISIT
Department of Veterans Affairs
11:07 A.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. First of all, you all have to be just as fired up as the overflow crowd that I just talked to. (Laughter.) They were really pumped up. (Laughter and applause.) Okay, all right, that’s good, that’s good.
First of all, let me thank Secretary Shinseki for that warm introduction and for his decades of courageous service to this country.
I was supposed to come earlier, and my husband bumped me — (laughter) — which happens all the time — (laughter) — but I was determined, so I am here today. Would have been here months ago, but I am — I’m happy to be here and I’m happy to be working alongside of all of you on behalf of our veterans. It’s a thrill.
I’ve enjoyed getting to know the Secretary along with his wife, who is just a tremendous asset to this administration and to the nation. We all appreciate all the work that she’s doing on behalf of nation’s military children. And I know she’s not here today because she’s just getting back in town from a really tough trip in Hawaii. (Laughter.) But please send her my best. She has been just a terrific partner.
I am honored to be here at the VA, my neighbors. I did not walk. (Laughter.) It always seems so strange to ride around the block — (laughter) — and get out of the car, but then I look at all the people who would — we have to shut down just for me to walk across the park. But it’s good to be here.
As you know, my husband and I, our children, we are happy to be in Washington, close to nine months, if not more, which I can’t believe. And as all of you know, I’ve been trying to do my best to get to know all of our team, going by all the agencies and listening and learning and taking that information back, and having it affect the work that I do, as well as what goes on in the White House.
But we’re new here, we’re the new guys on the block, and I say that everywhere I go. Many of you have been devoting your lives to this work. You’ve spent decades, especially the people who are standing behind me, people who have been working in the VA or working for the federal government for longer than I’ve been alive. And we are grateful to all of you for your long service. And we have to give you a round of applause. (Applause.)
And one of the reasons why I do this is because so often federal employees feel under-appreciated. You often get a lot of the blame but sometimes none of the thanks. And my simple job is to say thank you, because the job that you do is a big one. It is — it’s huge, particularly for the men and women in uniform who serve or who have served. And I think it’s important for people to understand all that happens at these agencies, how much people around the country depend on the work that you do.
Here at the VA, nearly 300,000 of you here and at VA facilities around the country serve our nation’s veterans and families. You’re their health care providers. You’re their life insurers. And you’re the key to educational opportunity for many of them. You help them buy homes, which is really truly the very claim to the dream that they defend. And while you do all that, you’re working to transform this very system to be the 21st century organization that’s worthy of today’s veterans and the veterans of tomorrow.
So I wanted to say thank you for all of that. And thank you for hanging in there when times get tough. We are grateful for the men and women who serve in uniform, but we’re also grateful to all of you for the work that you do. So thank you on behalf of me and the President and on behalf of the country.
Over the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to visit with families on bases across the country. As you know, I just last week — it was either Thursday or Friday — I was with families at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. About a thousand men and women in uniform stood in a very hot hangar — it was about a hundred degrees — but they were so fired up, and, you know, it made the trip just so worthwhile.
And I really cherish those visits because it gives me a chance to say thank you to them, but it gives me a chance to assure our servicemembers and their families that we are committed to their needs; that we as a nation, not just as the Obama administration, but we as a nation are really committed to help them meet their needs. And it gives me a chance to find out how we’re doing, what we’re falling down on, what we can improve.
And few of our obligations are as important than what we do here, what you do here at the VA. Our military families give more than most of us can really fully understand. If you haven’t been there, it’s really hard to imagine the amount of sacrifice and the courage and the bravery that not just happens for the men and women in uniforms but the members of their families that they leave behind. They hear and answer a call to serve that few of us would be able to do, or willing to do.
When troops are deployed or they’re fallen, they feel an absence greater than we can even comprehend, because their service and their sacrifice aren’t limited to the husband, wife, mother or father wearing the uniform. That sacrifice is borne by the entire family, the entire community. And that’s why your work is so critical. And we can’t underestimate that importance.
Day in and day out the folks here at the VA are working to uphold America’s sacred trust with those who defend our freedom, because it’s a commitment that doesn’t end when our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, or Coast Guards men and women take off the uniform.
Many of them come home with more battles to fight. And they don’t anticipate these battles. And thanks to the leadership of Secretary Shinseki and the efforts of each and every one of you, we’re making progress towards giving our veterans the kind of 21st century VA that they truly deserve.
We submitted a budget — and by “we” I mean my husband — (laughter) — that includes the largest single-year percentage increase in VA funding in three decades. (Applause.)
This administration is expanding VA health coverage to 500,000 more veterans who had been previously denied.
This administration has made progress towards creating one lifetime electronic health record service for members that will stay with them from the day they enlist to the day they no longer need these services. And that’s something that I hear in all of my visits — just simplifying the medical records. You’re doing that.
This administration is increasing the number of Vet Centers and mobile health clinics, expanding access to care to rural areas that need it. That’s another thing that I’ve heard. If you don’t live in the right community by an existing center — many of our veterans can’t even access the service that’s being provided. You’re working on that as well.
This administration put new focus on the new care required for today’s wars –- injuries like post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.
There have been new commitments to ending the morale outrage — or the moral outrage of veterans falling into homelessness. That’s something that the President talked about on the campaign trail. We shouldn’t be in a position where our men and women in uniform are ever without a place to live after serving this country.
And on Thursday, the President will keep a promise that he made on the campaign by signing into law the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act. This legislation guarantees a timely and predictable flow of funding for VA medical care because that’s what’s required to guarantee better care to the men and women who serve this country.
After all, our veterans’ unwavering belief in this country is what inspired them to serve in the first place. They deserve our unwavering support in return. It seems so simple. (Applause.) They deserve the care that they were promised, and they deserve the benefits that they earned.
And as long as my husband is Commander-in-Chief, that’s what’s going to happen — and I know that. And I know that because of who you all are as well. And fortunately now you’ll have more resources to make that possible.
My husband will never forget that his efforts are only as strong as the people on his team. No matter what bills he signs into law, no matter what legislation he passes or helps to pass, it only works because of all of you behind it, making it real.
And I’ve been deeply moved by the character and commitment of the federal employees that I’ve come in contact with, people who devote their lives to serving this country, often for a lot less financial stability and emotional rest than you would like. But your work is vital. It really is. And it’s worthy of the passion that you show.
So it’s just important for you to know that the President and I are proud of you, just as proud as we are of the men and women who serve this country, the people that you serve. And we just urge you to just keep it up. We are at the beginning of a long road of change, and we’re going to need every single one of you feeling the kind of passion and engagement when times are good and when times get tough. President Obama can’t do this alone, our veterans and their families and the men and women in uniform can’t do it without you fighting and staying focused and staying engaged. They need you, we need you — and we’re just very grateful.
So with that, I will stop, come and shake some hands. I want to thank you all for everything that you do. It’s been a pleasure. (Applause.)