Mr. President, Fellow Veterans, Honored Guests,
In the last scene of Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, the aged Private Ryan kneels reverently in front of Captain Miller’s grave. Captain Miller gave his life in combat to save Private Ryan’s. Ryan says to Miller and all Veterans, “I’ve tried to live my life the best I could. . . . I hope that, at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.”
I’m a Veteran. When I come to Arlington, I imagine myself saying that to every Veteran resting here, “I hope that . . . in your eyes I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.” We’d all do well to kneel at any one of these markers and repeat Ryan’s words. We’d all do well to turn to a Veteran and ask, “Am I earning it?”
Seven years ago today, right here at Arlington, President Obama made a sacred vow to Veterans. “America will not let you down,” he said. “We will take care of our own.” And then he fulfilled that vow.
President Obama and Congress provided the largest single-year VA budget increase in over three decades his very first year. Under his leadership, the VA budget has nearly doubled. He opened VA’s doors to nearly a half-million Veterans who’d lost eligibility in 2003. And he supported three presumptive conditions for Veterans exposed to Agent Orange.
Today—even though there are two million fewer Veterans than in 2009—there are nearly 1.2 million more Veterans receiving some type of VA care and services, 1.2 million more Veterans are enrolled for VA healthcare, 1.3 million more receive disability compensation, a half-million more Veterans have VA home loans, and we’ve seen a 76 percent increase in Veterans receiving educational benefits. We’ve cut Veteran homelessness in half since 2010. Veteran unemployment’s dropped by over half in the last five years. Unemployment for Post-9/11 Veterans has dropped by 70 percent.
“America will not let you down,” the President said. “We will take care of our own.” He stood by that commitment—year after year after year. And for good reason.
America met Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg when President Obama introduced him during the 2014 State of the Union Address. The President had met Cory four and a half years earlier, in Sainte-Mère-Église, France. He was one of the elite Rangers who’d parachuted in to commemorate the D-Day landings.
Then Cory returned to Afghanistan—for his 10th tour. The President next saw Cory in a hospital bed at Bethesda Naval. He’d been grievously wounded by a 50-pound roadside bomb outside of Kandahar. Cory couldn’t speak. He could barely move. But he gave the President a thumbs-up. Three years later, when the President and I traveled to Phoenix, President Obama quietly took a detour.
He needed to see Cory.
Cory had made miraculous progress in the Tampa VA polytrauma unit. So this time, with help, Cory stood, saluted, and said what you’d expect, “Rangers lead the way, Sir.”
Cory’s the epitome of that rare combination of qualities that characterizes the very best among all of us: a dogged sense of duty, indomitable courage, and plain American grit. President Obama admires that in Cory. He admires it in American Veterans. It’s why he loves them.
Ladies and gentlemen, our honored guest, the Commander in Chief and the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama.
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