3:17 p.m. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thanks.
Good to see you all. Denis, Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for this presentation, but above all, as many senators present here know, for being my friend for a long time. And thank you for joining the administration.
You know, when I was training administration, I knew Denis could do any job in administration, and–but he wanted to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs because it meant so much to him.
And I think the most important thing about having someone in charge of that department was someone who cares about what he or she is going to do. I knew he would pull every lever to deliver results for military veterans and their families. And that’s exactly what he did.
I also want to thank all of the veterans service organizations who are here today. I’m going to ask you all to stand up. I’m not going to read your names now, but the VA — all organizations — veterans organizations, please stand up. (Applause.) Thank you.
Before we go today and wrap up, I want to thank each of you personally, because you’re just carrying on for us. You are what veterans hold most dear. I say it sincerely. So thanks. We owe you a lot, and all families owe you.
And the Democratic and Republican sponsors of the bill, especially the leaders of our veterans committee – Big Jon Tester – Jon, thank you very much, man. And, Senator Moran, thank you, and Takano and — and, you know, (inaudible) is also here. Where – where are you? Where is everyone? So. OK. You have four right in front. OK.
I… I need glasses. I – only – when I look outside, the only thing I see is Joe Manchin. Hi Joe. How are you? (Laughs.) God, I wish I had Joe’s hair. (Laughs.) Joking aside, all friends.
Look, you’ve all done it – you’ve all done so much to make this day possible, all of you. And you are all essential to passing the PACT Act, which is on the floor right now.
And the law would extend benefits and services to those exposed to fire pits and toxic substances during military service – service, I might say. And we need your support to get it adopted.
And in my State of the Union address, I laid out an agenda for unity — four big things that all of us — Democrats, Republicans and independents — can tackle together as a nation. The first was the opioid crisis, the second was mental health, the third was cancer, and the fourth was supporting our veterans.
Today, our administration is implementing this program.
In a moment, I will sign nine different bills into law with overwhelming bipartisan support that improve care for our veterans and honor their service and sacrifice.
And, well, you’ve heard me say it many times before: Our nation has many obligations but only one truly sacred obligation – and I mean it; I have been saying this for over 35 years — a sacred obligation. And that is to prepare and equip those we send into danger and to care for them and their families when they return home. It is a sacred obligation. Because veterans are the backbone, the backbone of who we are as a country.
Less than 1% of the population risks everything to defend our nation, our values and all that is dear to us. You know, the 99% of us who don’t, we owe them something. We owe them a lot. And that’s what it’s all about today — it’s about paying a debt, in my opinion.
The United States — in the State of the Union, which I spoke of, we have to talk about the fire pits which incinerate war waste, tires, toxic chemicals, kerosenes and much more than I won’t even mention; a toxic smoke with thick poison, spreading in our bases and in the lungs of our troops. And when they got home, many of the fittest, best-trained warriors we’ve ever had weren’t the same: headaches, numbness, dizziness, cancer. My son Beau was one of them.
Undersecretary McDonough — the leadership — the VA is spearheading new ways to link toxic exposure to disease and help more veterans get the care they need.
Earlier this year, we expanded eligibility for veterans with nine rare respiratory cancers, but current law does not allow all veterans exposed to toxic substances to mammography services – that is the case now – till today.
The bill I am signing will ensure that veterans who served near burns get the preventative care they need.
He is named after Kate Hendricks Thomas. And her husband and son-in-law are here today, with two cousins. Two cousins, right? Welcome guys. Thanks for coming. This – (Applause.)
And I know when you said you had to go and sit in the front row in front of the president and all the press, you thought, “What am I doing, what am I doing? But I’m really glad you’re here. We really are. Because basically, Dad, it’s all about them. Everything revolves around them.
You know Mary [a Marine] and military police officer who was deployed to Iraq. Diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer following a mammogram, she advocated for women and men in the military to have access to these life-saving screenings.
Unfortunately, she lost her battle in April. Gone too soon, but his legacy will live on forever.
Our hearts go out to the family of Dr. Hendricks Thomas and — who, as I said, are here today — and other survivors — other cancer survivors.
Another bill improves breast imaging services for veterans, whether or not they have been exposed to burn sites.
Another extends a law that expires next month to compensate Americans who developed cancer and health problems from the nation’s World War II nuclear programs.
Beyond medical support for our veterans, several other bills honor our uniformed service members and those who fought tirelessly on their behalf.
The Congressional Medal – Gold Medal will go to US Army Ranger veterans of World War II – Rangers who played a crucial role in the D-Day invasion of Normandy, which began 78 years ago years yesterday – 78 years ago yesterday. This elite group once numbered 7,000 people, but now there are only 12 left. A dozen remain.
On behalf of our nation, we would like to thank them for their heroism and service.
You know, as a point of personal privilege, I had the honor of signing a bill that will name the new VA outpatient clinic to be built in Hawaii after a dear friend of mine and a former Senate colleague with whom I worked – and Mazie is here too – but Danny – Danny Akaka. Dany was a great friend. He was a World War II Army veteran and former chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee. One of the best people I have ever served with. He really was. A man of great honor and integrity.
Today I am also signing a bill to dedicate a veterans center in Utah in honor of Colonel Gail Halvorsen, known as “Candy Bomber” – you’ve heard of it, and Dennis just came from ‘talk about.
And I’m signing a bill that makes it easier to continue honoring veterans who have a building named after them when the VA changes ownership. In other words, if there is a named building and the property is abandoned, whatever building they move into will take the same name. We won’t have to go through the authorization process again.
The other bills are not only about the past of our veterans, but about the success of their future. We will strengthen oversight of VA activities so veterans receive the care they deserve, and restore education assistance benefits so veterans displaced by COVID-19 can continue to earn skills. new skills to meet the demands of a – and changing workforce.
Listen, let me close with this: Last week we–we com–we commemorated Memorial Day. And a reminder that our veterans and military families literally represent America’s best – America’s best.
We will never be able to fully repay the debt to all of you, but I promise you that my administration will always support you. I made that commitment when I raced, and I’m committing to it now. And the men and women sitting before me have made a similar commitment. We think so.
It’s something Bidens takes personally.
Every veteran and family member of a veteran who serves has made our lives, our freedom, and our very nation possible. We owe you. We owe you. And we thank you.
God bless you all. And may God protect our troops.
And with that, now I’m gonna go sign these nine bills. And at some point — I don’t know — I don’t work ahead anymore, Jon, but — (laughs) — but I have to get you all here for the signing. We will solve this problem.
And, again, children, thank you for being here. OK? Thanks a lot. Maybe I can talk to you after. Will you talk to me later? OK. OK. Thanks.
(He walks to the signing desk.)
There are actually badges here. (Laughs.)
(The invoices are signed.) (Applause.)
Thank you all. Thanks thanks thanks.
3:31 p.m. EDT