Remarks at the American Legion Conference
Hello, American Legion, and welcome to the American Legion National Convention in Minneapolis!
Minneapolis was the site of the very first American Legion Convention in 1919, and it was here that you adopted your Constitution and Preamble. We're very proud of that history, and proud to welcome you once again to Minnesota!
For decades you've been serving our nation's veterans at the grassroots level, and advocating for them in Washington, D.C. Thank you all for your tireless work.
Thank you National Commander Jimmie Foster and National Adjutant Dan Wheeler, andfrom Minnesota, thank you Commander Chuck Kruger, Commander Tom Lannon, Convention Corporation President Jim Copher [Coe-fur] and Adjutant Randy Tesdahl.
And thank you President Obama for all you're doing for our nation's veterans, including helping them get back to work.
I haven't had the honor of serving in the military. But I did have the chance to do seven USO tours, in Bosnia and Kosovo, and four times in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait.
That experience with our service members changed my life. I gained such an appreciation for what you - and your families - do for us and the sacrifice you make.
One reason I wanted to be a Senator was to do right by our veterans, and my first piece of legislation was a veterans bill - a bill to pair service dogs with mentally and physically wounded veterans. And I'm very proud of the fact that the study it mandated - of the benefits of pairing veterans with PTSD with service dogs - is being carried out as we speak by the VA.
And when the Senate returns in the fall, I'll be introducing legislation to improve veterans' - and especially rural veterans' - access to VA. Not every veteran will be able to live within five miles of a VA medical center. But that makes it all the more important that we find innovative solutions to ensure rural veterans get access to VA's excellent health care.
In these tough budgetary times, we need to make sure VA is not being shortchanged. There's going to have to be shared sacrifice. But we've been at war in Afghanistan and Iraq for nearly ten years. The veterans who've served over the last ten years have already made such great sacrifice. They're the last Americans who should be shortchanged now. We need to be addressing highunemployment among our veterans, homelessness among veterans, and we need to be addressing the needs of women veterans. And much more.
On Veterans Day in 1985, Ronald Reagan spoke of the sacrifice of those who gave their lives for our country. Reagan said, "[M]ost of them were boys when they died, and they gave up two lives - the one they were living and the one they would have lived. When they died, they gave up their chance to be husbands and fathers and grandfathers. They gave up their chance to be revered old men. They gave up everything for our country, for us. And all we can do is remember."
Probably the hardest part of the job I have as Senator is going to the funerals of the fallen. And when I do, I think of Reagan's words, and of all that we must do for the families of the fallen.
I also think about Reagan's words when I think about the veterans - men and, more and more, women - who have returned who have also lost two lives: the one they were living when they went into the military and the one they would have lived when they came back, because many come back with physical and psychologicalwounds that change their lives.
With our veterans, we can do more than remember. We can act. We can - and we must - give them everything they need. We must make sure they have a job, recover from their wounds, have a home. We must do this so they have the chance to be husbands, fathers, grandfathers, and revered old men, or wives, mothers, grandmothers, and revered old women.
That's our job, that's my job.
Thank you again for all that you do for our veterans. I want to continue working with you to make sure our veterans get the real gratitude, in deeds as well as in words, that they deserve. Have a great conference!