Remarks from Veterans Eve Press Conference
Thank you for coming out today. I stand here, at Soldier Field, surrounded by fellow Veterans, the day before Veterans Day, to talk about some of the key issues we are facing now as a nation. And to remind all of us that Veterans Day is a time to celebrate the men and women who’ve worn this nation’s uniform and to honor their service.
These men and women, along with their families, have sacrificed so much for us. And as young men and women return home from Iraq and Afghanistan, we need to make sure they have a chance to achieve the American Dream.
While most of us go on with our daily lives, our troops are standing on the front lines, serving our country. They have never asked to be thanked. They will never ask to be thanked. Yet we can never thank them enough. But we can support them. We must support them.
When I see what’s going on in Washington, with extreme partisan politics, I get frustrated. We have a promise to keep with our nation’s Veterans. And in order to keep that promise, we need to end the bickering and start working toward real solutions.
Later this month, the bipartisan “Super Committee” is supposed to announce its recommendation for balancing the U.S. budget. If the Committee fails to reach a deal later this month, a trigger will automatically cut $1.2 trillion in federal spending over the next 10 years, split between domestic and defense spending.
Included in these automatic cuts are programs that are vital to some of our nation’s most vulnerable populations.
Programs like Women, Infants and Children, which helps low-income women and children and is used by thousands of members of our armed forces, Veterans and their families would be forced to drop nearly one million participants.
Other programs such as Veteran Employment Program Offices and the Veteran Crisis Line, which has saved so many lives, would also undergo significant cuts.
I agree that the government must create a more fiscally responsible future. But we cannot balance the budget on the backs of our Veterans and those who need help most. Instead, we need to provide them with the tools they need to obtain an education, provide for their families and re-adjust to civilian life.
In my work leading the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs and as Assistant Secretary of the VA, I saw first hand the importance and successes of these types of programs. We need to help them find employment. In fact, Veterans 24 years and younger are unemployed at more than twice the rate of civilians.
It’s through positions like those that I had the honor of working with incredible organizations and people. There are people here today who have worked tirelessly on these issues for years. People like Bob Adams and the Midwest Shelter for Homeless Veterans.
Veteran Homelessness is simply unacceptable. As Veterans become unemployed, they are vulnerable to becoming homeless. In addition to high rates of homelessness among male Veterans, female Veterans are also becoming homeless and they tend to bring children into homelessness with them. We need to maintain programs that support and help to reduce homelessness and unemployment among Veterans.
At VA, I was charged with leading the Department’s efforts to end Veteran homelessness. Over the past 3 years, VA has prevented or found home for tens of thousands of Veterans. This summer, VA launched a 60 million dollar outreach campaign to promote housing stability among homeless Veterans and those in danger of becoming homeless. And it’s working.
Investments like these are hard to make when times are tough, but they’re the right thing to do. We must also partner with non-profits to leverage their expertise and agility.
Because we are talking about Veterans, you can appreciate on a day like today here in Chicago how horrible it would be not have a home. That’s why we are doing this outside.
Standing up here with me is Jose Vasquez. Jose is a Vietnam Veteran. A Veteran who returned home to a county that wasn’t ready to support him. I am honored that he joins me here today to share his experience.
He shares his story with us so close to Veterans Day. A day to think about what we do as a nation – especially in light of our troops coming home for Iraq and Afghanistan – we need to ensure that they have a chance at the American dream. Just like the rest of us.