Thank you, Colonel (John) Gant. Good afternoon. Thank you all for coming. And, thank you, Deputy Secretary (Roy) Bernardi for your remarks.
I am also looking forward to Robert Walker's comments. Bob works in FHEO. He symbolizes the veterans here at the department: hard working, inspiring, and dedicated to service. Bob was even depicted as a medic in the movie "We Were Soldiers." He is fighting a different battle today, a battle to preserve and ensure fair housing. Thanks for being here, Bob.
I also want to thank the HUD employees who organized this event. Well done. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in giving the organizing committee a round of applause. (applause)
Each year we gather to honor the veterans who have served our country. Through their service, they have protected our freedom and our families. So we come together as a community, as a country, to thank them. We acknowledge those who sacrificed to keep our country safe. They made our peace and prosperity possible. They served so that we might enjoy the fruits of liberty and the solitude of security.
It is an honor to have so many veterans as HUD employees. I would like to ask each person here who has served in the military to please stand and be recognized.
Thank you for standing. Thank you for your dedication and commitment.
Veterans Day has a special importance to you because it is so profoundly personal. It is personal for me too. My father is a veteran. He served in Europe after the Second World War. It was in a devastated and defeated Germany that he met my mother. So I always remember Veterans Day with a smile because I am so proud of my father and mother, and I'm proud of every veteran who served our country.
You know, time only confirms the debt we owe. This week there are numerous stories in European newspapers about how America helped end the First World War. In fact that war ended ninety years ago on November 11th. As historians say, it ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. When President Woodrow Wilson sent over two million American soldiers the German Army slowly gave up, and over the course of a few months surrendered, not because of military defeat, but because of the weariness of war. Today, we are witnessing the passing of the last of the World War I veterans...the doughboys. We remember their sacrifice and thank them for it.
But we also remember something else...that they were not the last to sacrifice themselves for our country. The First World War was supposed to be the "war to end all wars." Some people said in 1918 that there would be no more need for soldiers, no need for armies or navies in the future, no need for defense or military service ever again.
Well, it wasn't the end of conflict, and the need for our veterans continued through the Second World War, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, and Iraqi Freedom. These veterans are necessary in times of conflict to bring us peace and security, and are necessary in times of peace to continue to keep our nation safe and secure. Whatever the circumstances, each time we have called on those in military service, millions of men and women have responded with courage, professionalism, and steadfast commitment.
This department honors their commitment through our work to provide foreclosure relief, affordable housing, and shelter for those on the streets. After all of the excitement and ticker-tape of homecoming and reunion, life goes on. And life often isn't easy, providing difficult twists and turns. The unforeseen happens.
I am thinking in particular of veterans who become homeless. Our department is helping. Last Spring, the department announced a joint HUD/VA program to provide assistance for our nation's homeless veterans. This program, called HUD-VASH, or "HUD Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing" program, provided approximately 10,000 new vouchers for homeless veterans and their families.
Many of you know that the HUD-VASH initiative dates back to 1990. It was started by former VA Secretary Ed Derwinski and Buffalo's Jack Kemp, former Secretary of HUD. HUD provided the housing vouchers and the VA provided the needed case management services. But, the vouchers soon ended and we continued to serve veterans under other efforts. But, funding for VASH was restored by Congress for this current fiscal year (2008). And the level of funding, which is $75 million, allows us to reach about 10,000 veterans. This is a major expansion of the funding available for homeless veterans. It is good news for our veterans.
I am also pleased that the President has requested another $75 million in his new budget for Fiscal Year 2009. If approved, this would allow us to reach up to 20,000 homeless veterans.
The Department is important to veterans in other ways, such as the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program. This effort started about one year ago at HUD. It is designed to provide Veterans with work experience in our department. Veterans are paid a stipend by the Veterans Administration for 90 days, which can be extended for another 90 days. This program gives veterans experience and skills which can be used to gain permanent employment in the federal government or the private sector.
But our efforts are more than programmatic...they extend outside of the work setting. Many of you have stepped forward with extra efforts to help veterans in need. For example, HUD employees collected money for gift cards and phone cards. These cards were donated last year to veterans at several Washington-area facilities for the holiday season. Also, our employees recently participated in the Walter Reed Wounded Program to help serve dinner on base. And our employees have been part of the Convoy of Hope, a day-long out-reach effort to distribute free groceries and to organize activities for veterans and their families.
I know this volunteer work is meaningful for everyone involved. I recently escorted some veterans through the White House. It was a great experience. But don't let anyone tell you that veterans are too tough for emotions. There was one guy who had lost several limbs. He didn't smile or show much feeling throughout the tour...that is, until he got to hold Barney, the President's dog. Then he just broke out in the biggest smile...That moment made the tour worthwhile for everyone.
I now ask for Barney to accompany any tour I do...
Our veterans have helped create and defend this great country. In turn, we must serve those who have served our country. And we can think about this commitment every day when we walk into this department, because HUD still flies the flag for our Missing in Action. We were the first federal agency to do this. Let that flag serve as a constant reminder to help those who have served, and now need us, as we needed them.
Again, I want to thank the organizing committee for their good work. And thanks to our departmental veterans. We are proud of you and proud to work with you.