Pence says America owes vets a debt, promises stronger military

Army photograph by Elizabeth Fraser

Vice President Mike Pence, left, Army Gen. Michael Howard, commander of the Military District of Washington, left center, and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin attend a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Nov. 11, 2017.

From the dawn of the Republic, the United States has depended upon its veterans, and it owes them a debt of honor that must be paid, Vice President Mike Pence said Nov. 11 at the annual Veterans Day ceremony here.

He stood in for President Donald J. Trump, who is attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in Da Nang, Vietnam.

Pence noted that some 50 million Americans have worn the cloth of the United States since 1775, with 20 million of them alive today. “From the hour of our nation’s birth, our best and bravest have stepped forward to defend our freedom,” he said. “And as we speak, a new generation of American veterans is being forged across the wider world.”

The United States owes a debt to veterans, and “it’s a debt we can never fully repay. But on this Veterans Day we rededicate ourselves to accomplishing just that,” Pence said.

Veterans return from service to the nation to serve their communities, he said.

Pence said the administration has been working hard on delivering the services – especially medical assistance – that veterans need and deserve. “Working with Secretary [David] Shulkin, we’ve made the Department of Veterans Affairs already more efficient, effective, and accountable,” the vice president said.

“Let me be clear: Veterans benefits are not entitlements — they are earned. They are the ongoing compensation for services rendered in the uniform of the United States of America. And under President Donald Trump, we’re keeping the promises that we’ve made to men and women who’ve served in our armed forces,” he said.

Veterans Choice Program
Pence noted the administration has expanded the Veterans Choice Program by more than $2 billion to give beneficiaries access to real-time, high-quality healthcare. “And because not all wounds of war are visible, we’ve improved veterans’ access to urgent mental healthcare services and given them greater access to telemedicine for our veterans,” he said.

The president also signed into law the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act to ensure veterans receive the highest level of service. “And this president has taken decisive action to end the pattern of neglect and mistreatment at the VA,” Pence said. “We’ve already fired or suspended over 1,500 VA employees for negligent behavior.”

Trump has also signed legislation to expand the post-9/11 GI Bill and eliminate the 15-year limit on benefits for new veterans. “And I’m glad to report, veteran unemployment has already fallen by nearly 40 percent since President Trump was elected,” he said. “It’s lower today than at any point since the year 2000. And we’re just getting started.”

Soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) conduct the funeral of Army Staff Sgt. Bryan Black in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Oct. 30, 2017. Black was assigned to Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, when he died from wounds sustained in Niger, Oct. 4, 2017.

Veterans return from service to the nation ready to serve in communities. “Today, our veterans continue to serve our nation in careers ranging from business to education, from law enforcement to public service,” Pence said.

Keep your wits
He related an example of service from the tragedy in Texas. “On Wednesday, Karen and I traveled to Sutherland Springs, Texas, to meet the families and the victims of the worst attack on a place of worship in American history,” the vice president said. “At Brooke Army Medical Center, we stood at the bedside of a retired U.S. Marine Corps gunnery sergeant named Juan Macias. We spoke to his family, as he lay before us, recovering from his injuries. But it was from another member of the church that we learned of that veteran’s extraordinary courage last Sunday.

“Julie Workman, a registered nurse, was also wounded in the First Baptist Church that day,” Pence continued. “But no sooner had the attacker left that she began to treat the wounded. Seeing what lay before her, though, Julie told me she was momentarily overcome, and that’s when “Gunny” stepped in. Despite having five bullet wounds, she told me that Gunny sat up, looked her in the eye and said, ‘You were born for this, keep your wits about you, do your job.’ She said that’s all she needed to hear. Heroism outlives the uniform. And her actions and his courage undoubtedly saved lives that day. That’s an American veteran.” 

Veterans of the future are serving today, and the vice president said the administration has already taken decisive action to make the strongest military in the history of the world, stronger still. “This President has already signed the largest increase in military spending in nearly a decade, and before this year is out, we’ll enact the largest investment in our national defense since the days of Ronald Reagan,” he said.

“And under President Donald Trump, I’ll make you a promise: We’re going to rebuild our military. We’re going to restore the arsenal of democracy, and we will once again give our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen the resources and training they need to accomplish their mission and come home safe,” Pence said. “That’s our promise to all of you.”