Milwaukee, Wisconsin - Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks at the at the 92nd Annual American Legion National Convention this morning in Milwaukee. President Obama and Congress, under Democratic leadership, have taken historic action in support of our troops and veterans. Below are the Speaker's remarks:
“As Speaker of the House, I bring greetings to the American Legion on behalf of all Members of Congress. Thank you, Commander [Clarence] Hill, for your leadership in establishing priorities and ensuring accomplishments for our nation's veterans and military families.
“And after your election tomorrow, we all look forward to working with your incoming National Commander, Jimmie Foster.
“As a Californian, I'd like to acknowledge the American Legion's Department of California, and its Commander, Mark Foxworthy. As a proud daughter of Baltimore, I would also like to salute the Department of Maryland, and its Commander, Michael Mooney.
“The work of the American Legion is summed up in your commitment to ‘mutual helpfulness.' That means: advocating for those who wear our nation's uniform - when they serve, and when they come home; protecting the American people; promoting the patriotism that has made our nation great; and developing the next generation of leaders.
“Thank you, Legionnaires!
“I know that you heard this morning from Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner. He has led one of the most active and accessible Veterans committees in history. He partnered with Chairman Chet Edwards of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee to provide the VA with Advanced Appropriations - the number one priority of the American Legion.
“Chairman Chet Edwards asked that I tell you how proud he is of the National Commanders Distinguished Public Service Award with which you honored him at the Washington Conference last year. All of us take great pride in his accomplishments on behalf of veterans.
“I'd also like to acknowledge Congresswoman Gwen Moore, who represents Milwaukee in the Congress and whom you heard from yesterday. One of her first accomplishments in Congress was to secure funding for a spinal cord injury unit for disabled veterans right here in Milwaukee.
“I display with pride my American Legion ‘Unsung Hero' Award in the Speaker's office. It is an award that I am proud of because I received from you, our nation's heroes: the 2.2 million Legionnaires.
“For 92 years, you have helped ensure we live by our moral obligation to honor the service of our troops and their families - with deeds, not just words.
“From your founders, the veterans of World War I, to your newest members, those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, you understand the commitment of veterans from one generation to the next. We have a responsibility to ensure that all Americans understand the sacrifice of our troops and their families.
Blue Star Families Report
“Earlier this year, the Blue Star Families presented me with a report that made this heartbreaking conclusion: Nearly 95 percent of military families believe that the general public does not understand or appreciate the sacrifices made by service members and their families. That must change. We must work together. You certainly have done your part. We all must work together to make sure that that number changes.
“Military service has always been a source of American pride and strength.
“When I was growing up in Baltimore, everyone knew and was grateful to members of the Armed Services. In my own family, four of my brothers are veterans. And now my nephew is.
“When I was young, my father was Mayor of Baltimore. One of his accomplishments was bringing the Orioles to our city in 1954. I remember with pride when he dedicated the new baseball stadium, Memorial Stadium, to our nation's veterans - including his brother, my Uncle Johnny, who died in the Battle of the Bulge.
“On the wall of Memorial Stadium, it said, ‘Time will not dim the glory of their deeds.' And because of the leadership of the American Legion, we will always remember and honor those who protect and defend our country and our Constitution.
“I'd like to especially acknowledge the Gold Star and the Blue Star Families who join us here today and thank them for their participation and their leadership.
“Today, in the Capitol, we have a glorious monument that serves as a constant reminder of our men and women in uniform: it is a statue of President Dwight Eisenhower. It was his request that he be depicted, not in civilian clothes as President, but in his General's uniform as he looked when he addressed the troops before D-Day.
Planting a Flag for Veterans
“In 2005, when I was House Democratic Leader, I planted a flag for our veterans. I worked closely with the American Legion, as did other Members of Congress and other Veterans Service Organizations, to create a veterans agenda including the GI Bill of Rights for the 21st Century.
“When I became Speaker, this was my to-do list. And you continued to push for action in our regular meetings in the Speaker's office.
“As a result, together we made more progress over the last four years for our veterans and military families than has been made since the passage of the original GI Bill in 1944.
“Consider our accomplishments; and take pride in them because they most certainly would not have happened without the American Legion.
“You said that the VA needed timely and reliable funding. Advanced Appropriations is now the law of the land.
“You said that veterans health care was being left behind. We passed the largest increase in veterans funding in history - which meant tens of thousands of new doctors and nurses, new Vet Centers and community-based outpatient clinics, and 300,000 modest-income veterans receiving VA health care for the first time. That's why the American Legion called it ‘a cause for celebration.'
“You said we needed to put an end to the Disabled Veterans Tax. The House unanimously passed the Disabled Military Retiree Relief Act last year, and we are going to keep the pressure on the Senate until it becomes the law of the land.
“You said that veterans were facing enormous costs to travel to receive care. We've addressed this hardship: making investments to help deliver care where veterans live and more than quadrupling the travel reimbursement.
“You said that veterans were being left behind in this economy. We passed the Recovery Act which made billions of dollars of investments to provide jobs, tax cuts, and quality-of-life improvements to our troops and veterans, to alleviate the burden of the recession, and to reduce the claims backlog.
“You demanded action on behalf of our veterans coping with the aftereffects of Agent Orange. And we passed more than $13 billion in disability compensation for these brave veterans who have suffered for far too long. And just this week, the Obama Administration took historic action, confirming there is a connection between Agent Orange and certain diseases and allowing the VA to provide compensation, health care, and long overdue recognition to many.
“And you said that the GI Bill - a centerpiece of American prosperity - no longer kept pace with the times. With the American Legion by our side, just as you were at the creation of the original GI Bill, we passed the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Together, we have restored the promise of a full, four-year scholarship for our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and we made it transferable to their spouses and children. Educating our nation's veterans is a cost of war, and it is a promise we make to our troops for their courageous service to our country. Already, 300,000 veterans and their families have pursued a degree through this initiative. Thank you, Legionnaires!
“I'm proud that the vast majority of our accomplishments were done with overwhelming bipartisan support. Because there should be no division between Republicans and Democrats when it comes for supporting those who have worn our nation's uniform - when they serve, and when they come home.
‘Make It In America'
“We have made remarkable progress, but our work is not complete:
“Our work will not be complete until every American who has fought for our country abroad can find a job when they come home. We will put our veterans to work with our ‘Make It in America' economic strategy. Think of it. It's a patriotic action to say that we want to ensure our national security. Our national security depends on our having a strong industrial, technological manufacturing base so that we can provide our troops what they need when they go to battle and when they train. But our manufacturing base has been eroding in our country. And we are saying one way to correct that is to ‘Make it in America.' Not only to manufacture it in America, but to enable the American people, and our veterans in particular, to make it in America. It's a national security issue.
“In fact, I have referenced President Eisenhower earlier, and I am inspired by him, as his presence in the Capitol, but also by his actions. When he was President, there were very difficult economic times. And he said, in spite of that bad economy, he made the decision that we would build the interstate highway system. Where would the money come from? You hear this all the time - where would the money come from? We were in dire economic straits. The President said we are going forward because it is a national security issue for us to have the American people connected by an interstate highway system. And not only that, it created an enormous amount of jobs. Just think of where we would be as a country if we had not invested in that infrastructure at that time. It was a very courageous move by a very courageous President.
“We have a challenge now to rebuild our infrastructure, which will create jobs in America. Our soldiers know that some of the reasons that we go to war can be addressed by having a stronger America here, that if they know when they fight, we promise them a future worthy of their sacrifice.
“And that future must provide economic opportunity for them and their families as they make it in America, build our infrastructure, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, clean up our air, make us technologically number one. We are number one. We are determined to be number one and the connection between our returning vets, job opportunities, preserving our industrial base, strengthening that base, building the infrastructure of America, is the path I believe we must work together so that everyone can make it in America, especially our veterans.
“Our work will not be complete until there is not one homeless veteran on any street in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
“Our work will not be complete until we have ended the Widows' Tax. We have already made progress, and we will keep working until survivors of those who died as a result of their service-connected injuries are no longer penalized and receive the full benefits that they so rightly deserve.
“And our work will not be complete until we ensure that no veteran in need of care is ever turned away from a VA medical facility and no veteran is left to wade through mountains of bureaucratic red tape to settle their claims. And we must make renewed commitment to treating the signature wounds of today's wars: TBI and PTSD.
“As we move forward, know that we will work with the American Legion every step of the way.
Iraq and Afghanistan
“Just last night, President Obama made a strong statement from the Oval Office about the new chapter our nation has begun in Iraq. Our nation thanks those in uniform who have served in Iraq - and those who continue to bear any burden in the service of our country, including the approximately 100,000 troops serving in Afghanistan.
“We will show our thanks by ensuring a smooth transition when they come home. We know that the American Legion will be a leading voice on behalf of these men and women in uniform. Together, we will build a future that is worthy of their sacrifice. Regardless of what you may have thought about going into the war, we separate the war and the warrior, and we will welcome them home as the heroes that they are. God bless them for all they do. God has certainly blessed them with their service to our country.
“Our nation can never fully repay the debt of gratitude we owe to the courageous men and women who have worn our nation's uniform. For those who have answered America's call to duty, there are no make-up days for missed birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations.
“We honor our troops by never forgetting their families. Nearly 2 million children in American have at least one parent serving in the military, and nearly 1 million children have seen a parent endure multiple deployments.
MIAs and POWs
“A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to visit North Korea as part of an Intelligence Committee trip there--very unusual, not many people go to Pyongyang, to North Korea. Two main issues that we brought to the table: number one, we wanted them to stop developing missile technology and perhaps selling it to other countries.
“But in relationship to these families, and sometimes I think it comes as a surprise to some of these countries, very important to us was the issue of our MIAs and POWs. Every country has to know that if we are talking historically about former wars, or if we are talking about what we are engaged in now, or any thought into the future, we will never forget. We will always try to get the truth about our MIAs and our POWs.
“It was quite an honor to be able to speak on their behalf to the leadership of North Korea. But it is an issue that is much bigger than any Congressional visit. That's why we have those flags flying in the Capitol as well for our POWs and our MIAs. We will never forget.
Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry
“In terms of not forgetting, I would like to tell you the story of just one --Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry. He was a father of three serving in Anbar Province in Iraq. After suffering a serious hand injury, he was told he could go home with a Bronze Star. But he volunteered to stay and serve. He said he wanted to stay and protect his fellow Marines.
“John David Fry defused nearly 100 bombs during his time in Iraq. The last bomb took his life.
“The Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship, passed by Congress, promises the children of those killed in the line of duty since Sept. 10, 2001, will receive the GI Bill benefits their parents earned. John David Fry has three children who will now be able to go to college because of their father's service and sacrifice.
“We passed this legislation with the American Legion by our side. You are our nation's strongest voice on behalf of patriotism and honor; you understand the need for continued devotion to all who are so devoted to our nation that they served it in uniform.
“We can never repay their sacrifice; but we can, and we must, honor the patriotism, courage, and service of all of our men and women in uniform. Because of you, we are the land of the free and the home of the brave.
“Just as our troops pledge to leave no one behind on the battlefield, we will leave no veteran behind when they come home.
“God bless the American Legion. God bless our nation's veterans. God bless our troops and their families. God bless America.”