President Obama on Sunday challenged Americans to stand with wounded warriors and pledged that his administration — four months removed from a scandal that forced then-Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki from his job — will “move heaven and earth” to ensure veterans get the care they deserve.
Speaking at a dedication ceremony for the $80 million American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial in Washington, the president outlined the commitment the federal government and the country as a whole must make to U.S. fighting men and women injured in combat.
Kind words and sympathy, Mr. Obama said, are not sufficient, and he vowed that no expense will be spared in the effort to provide veterans with whatever they need after returning home.
“Our reflection is not enough. Our expressions of gratitude are not enough. Here, in the heart of our nation’s capital, this memorial is a challenge to all of us, a reminder of the obligations this country is under,” he said. “This memorial tells us what we must do. When our wounded veterans set out on that long road of recovery, we need to move heaven and earth to make sure they get every benefit, every single bit of care, that they have earned, that they deserve.”
Mr. Obama’s comments come against the backdrop of a nation once again committing itself to a yearslong conflict. The U.S. and its allies continue to bomb Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria, and the White House has made clear that the fight to eradicate the terrorist organization will take time.
Unlike past wars, however, the White House has stressed time and time again that no U.S. ground forces will take part in the battle against the Islamic State.
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The memorial dedication also comes just four months after the administration was rocked by scandal in the Veterans Affairs Department. Mr. Shinseki resigned amid accusations that the department wasn’t delivering timely medical care to wounded veterans and, in some cases, kept shoddy or intentionally misleading records in order to hide long wait times.
After an uproar on Capitol Hill and across the country forced Mr. Shinseki to step down, Mr. Obama tapped former Procter and Gamble CEO Bob McDonald to reform the VA.
On Sunday, Mr. Obama didn’t directly address either the fight against the Islamic State or problems at the VA, but made clear that all Americans who have served in combat deserve the best their country can offer.
“Our wounded warriors might have a different feeling to life, but when we are truly there for them, when we give them every opportunity to succeed and continue their enormous contributions to our country, our whole nation is stronger, all of our lives are richer,” he said. “If you’re an American and you see a veteran, maybe with a prosthetic arm or leg, maybe burns on their face, don’t ever look away. Do not turn away. You go up and you reach out and you shake their hand and you look them in the eye and say those words every veteran should hear all the time — ‘Welcome home. Thank you.’”
While caring for veterans must remain a top priority, the president said the U.S. also must avoid sending men and women into harm’s way unless it is “absolutely necessary.”
“Let’s never rush into war because it is America’s sons and daughters who bare the scars of war for the rest of their lives, he said.
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The memorial, across the street from the U.S. Capitol, includes glass panels, etched with quotes and photos, and touchable bronze sculptures, meant for veterans who are blind.
The memorial was organized by philanthropist Lois Pope, former Veterans Affairs Secretary Jesse Brown and Art Wilson, who retired as CEO and national adjutant of the Disabled American Veterans organization in 2013. The group first started work on creating the memorial in the late 1990s and raised more than $80 million for its construction.
The site also features a star-shaped fountain, with one point representing each of the five branches of the military. An eternal flame hovers above the water.
More information can be found at avdlm.org.
⦁ Jacqueline Klimas contributed to this report, which was based in part on wire service reports.