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Obama, V.A. Secretary to Honor Veterans, Military on Veterans Day. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 11, 2015 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

An important show today for us and a very important day, a salute and a tribute to our nation's veterans for their service and for their sacrifice.

We're looking live right now at the official Veterans Day ceremony. It's getting under way at Arlington National Cemetery.

BERMAN: These are live pictures from the nation's most hallowed ground. As is tradition, the president will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. He will deliver an address inside the memorial amphitheater. We'll also hear from the V.A. Secretary Robert McDonald.

You're looking at outside the amphitheater right now. The president, any minute now, will walk up, he will lay that wreath, then we will take you inside to hear his remarks.

BOLDUAN: As we await -- it's such a beautiful day. I was just struck by the falling leaves that you see right there.

As we await to see the president, and we'll break in the moment that we do, we want to bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, as well as CNN military analyst, Major General Spider Marks to join us in this conversation.

Major General, it's always great to have you on. It's great to have you on every day but especially on a day like this.

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: This is a rather special day.

BOLDUAN: Just on this day when the president's preparing to speak on a day that everyone takes a moment to stop to remember to honor, what does it mean for you?

MARKS: It means everything. I mean, this is what I dedicated my life to but more importantly, it's what all these incredible young men and women of all generations routinely step up and make this decision to defend our freedoms. I mean, it's absolute selflessness, and it's the heart of what we stand for. It's a magnificent tribute to them.

BERMAN: 19 million veterans in this country right now. And today is the day to thank each and every one of them.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us.

We do expect to hear the president talk about what the nation now is doing for our veterans because this has been a subject of some controversy for now a couple of years.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It has been in recent years. A lot of questions about whether America's veterans are getting from the Department of Veterans Affairs the services that they need. Are they getting that health care, that medical care on a timely basis? There's been a lot of talk from the White House and the administration about trying to improve it, but still, I think, even the Department of Veterans Affairs would say a very long way to go. But what we are seeing here today at Arlington really is the history of America's veterans' service to the nation. This holiday, if you will, is a remembrance really on the -- they call it the 11th hour of the 11th day in which -- of the 11th month in which the armistice to end World War I was signed back in 1918. Now it's become a moment to remember all.

BOLDUAN: And let's all take a moment right now and watch the president as the ceremony gets under way.






[11:07:51] BERMAN: The president now moving inside the memorial amphitheater where there will be a ceremony to mark this Veterans Day. The president will speak as will the secretary of Veterans Affairs, rob either McDonald.

Joined by General James "Spider" Marks, retired Army general.

Spider, you know Robert McDonald. He's been on the job now for a year and change. How has he found the time there? The challenges are enormous.

MARKS: It is an immense organization that has grown, and its charter has just kind of evolved over the years. And there hasn't been what I would call a concomitant to help that secretary of veteran as fairs, whoever it was, his predecessors, to really keep focused in on that charter. Remember, President Lincoln created the Veterans Administration to heal up those that were injured and to care for his, her family, the wives and their children. We have gotten so far beyond that. We are now everything to everybody. And we have this massive, massive organization and the longevity of all our veterans is increasing. It's a wonderful thing.


MARKS: So we still have -- we still have, you know, World War II veterans. God love Bob Dole, I mean, and that generation of patriots. Yet we have that generation, we have Korean War, we have Vietnam, et cetera. And then the engagement in these most recent wars, we've seen veterans come back and again, God love them, the medical care has been phenomenal. So we have veterans today that wouldn't necessarily be with us in those previous wars.

BERMAN: They would not have survived. Now because of the medical care, they have survived.


MARKS: -- multiple amputees and God love them.

BOLDUAN: Their needs are different than the needs of past veterans.

MARKS: Absolutely. Absolutely, Kate. We've got to keep up with all of that. We cannot afford to not pay attention to that entire spectrum of these veterans. It's a monstrous job.

BOLDUAN: Monstrous job, Barbara. Also, as John was alluding to the scandal that has rocked -- that is a beautiful image that we're looking at right there, as we continue our discussion. As John was alluding to, the scandal that rocked the Veterans Affairs Administration, rocked the V.A., it is a scandal that made -- that is the reason that the previous secretary lost his job. We now have Robert McDonald on the job. What are the reviews that you're hearing so far in how he is tackling and taking on and making progress in the face of this intense, intense scrutiny?

[11:10:22] STARR: You know, I actually talked to him a few weeks ago at an event here in Washington. He is very aware of the challenge that he is currently facing and the challenge that lies ahead in the very near future. Sure, I mean, I think there are veterans who are very clearly telling us that they are not getting the services they need on a timely basis. The wait times are still significant. We've talked about this, the V.A., the department has outdated computer systems. They have a demoralized employee work force. They have more and more veterans every day, and it is only going to grow.

This is not a population that is going to decrease. We have seen 14 years of war in this country, and I think one of the most interesting things Bob McDonald told me when I spoke to him, he is already looking ahead to women because we are facing, in the new year, the very real likelihood that all combat jobs will be open to American young women to serve this country just as the young men do, and that is going to open a whole new generation of veterans issues for the department. They will have to provide, on an equal basis, medical care to American service women of all types, all kinds of medical care that they may only be doing around the edges now.

The population is growing. The population is shifting. Even as Spider was just saying, the World War II generation, the Korean generation, the Vietnam generation, aging, and they have their own medical needs as aging veterans. This is one of the most complex eras many people believe in the care for America's veterans' population.

BERMAN: All right. Barbara Starr, stand by, please.

General Spider Marks, stand by as well.

We are awaiting remarks from the president on this Veterans Day. We'll have that right after this.



[11:16:26] BERMAN: Live pictures from inside the memorial amphitheater at Arlington national ceremony. Any moment now, President Obama will deliver remarks to honor our veterans on this Veterans Day.

BOLDUAN: As we await those remarks, let's bring back in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, as well as CNN military analyst, Major General James "Spider" Marks.

Barbara, one of the issues -- General, I think you should weigh in on this as well.

One of the issues that the V.A. has been also been focusing on is ending homelessness among veterans. And this is an area where they can tout some success, and we can expect to probably hear that from either the V.A. secretary for the president himself today.

STARR: I think, you know, the state of Virginia now is going to be saying that it feels it has ended homelessness amongst American veterans. We'll leave it to them to speak on their behalf. But this is a very difficult problem across the country. And I don't know how people can say they really end homelessness because as more veterans come home, new veterans, newly, you know, leaving the service, so many young people find themselves in very challenging economic circumstances. I'm from Los Angeles, and I can tell you I've been downtown L.A. many times. The overall homelessness problem in Los Angeles and especially for veterans, young veterans in particular, is extremely significant. And a lot of work being done by private organizations and partnering with the V.A. Indeed to try and find solutions to that. But this gets back to what we're talking about. America's veterans' population is a very dynamic always-moving population. People constantly get out of the military. They constantly, over the last 14 years, have come home from America's wars, and many of them do face a number of challenges that grow over time. They don't always get better. Sometimes they do, thankfully. So this is the population that we will have in this country now for many years to come. America's veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan will be with this country proudly for many decades. And that hand is going to have to be reached out to help those who may need it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.



BOLDUAN: Unfortunately, his face blocked by one of the teleprompters right now, but right there you can see the introduction of President Obama standing right next to the V.A. secretary, Robert McDonald.

Spider, your thoughts on what Barbara was talking about, quickly.

MARKS: The homelessness problem is one we need to get our arms around and the V.A. is doing quite a good job. 600 servicemembers a day become veterans. They depart the service, and all the services are getting smaller, so that is going to increase, the population of those that need care will increase.

BERMAN: Spider, you know, as we're listening to the music to go along with this wonderful ceremony right now, you are a veteran, obviously, served for three decades --

BOLDUAN: Three decades.

BERMAN: -- in the Army. On this day, it shouldn't just be one day where we honor the service of those who have given so much. What do you want to hear today?

[11:20:12] MARKS: I want to -- I would love to hear from Bob and Robert McDonald who is a classmate and a dear friend. So I've known Bobby forever. I would love to hear from both of them that this is certainly for Secretary McDonald, this is his sole focus. This is why he comes to work every day. This is why he suits up.

From the president, I would love to hear efforts on his part to work across all parties and across the aisle to really galvanize legislation that can really get us in a better spot relative deep to DOD, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

As Barbara indicated -- she's absolutely spot on -- there needs to be a continuum of care. The servicemember who signs up today, the 18- year-old who comes in today, is going to be this veteran 80 years from now, hopefully, 80 years from now. Yet there's this great divide. DOD is in Virginia. V.A. is in Washington. There has never been a larger divide across the Potomac than you can imagine. That database, young Spider Marks at 18, is that completely continuous over the V.A. So I seamlessly transition to somebody else who owns me. Right now, that disappears. This is a very, very tough technical leadership requirement.

BOLDUAN: You really lay out well just a perfect example of just how difficult the challenge is, how difficult it is, it doesn't matter, though. This is something that -- this is why these men are in this job.

BERMAN: Got to fix it. And by the way, something everyone agrees that they want to see fixed. There's not a debate.


BOLDUAN: This is not a partisan debate, right?

MARKS: Exactly. This is one of those where you can really get your arms around and we all agree.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

We're waiting to hear from the president. Let's take one more quick break. When we come back, we'll be hearing from President Obama.




[11:26:20] MARVIN CORNISH, MASTER OF CEREMONIES: -- in 1954 to hold this annual observance in honor of our American veterans --

BOLDUAN: We're looking right now at the Veterans Day ceremony happening at Arlington National Cemetery. Let's listen in.

CORNISH: -- these special guests. If able, please stand when your name is called.

Norbert Ryan Jr, national president, Military Officers Association of America. Gene Henkowski, national president, Polish Legion of American Veterans. Larry Kynard, Korean War Veterans Association. Angel Zuniga, Armenda Crawford, national commander, Catholic War Veterans of the USA. Edward DeMint Sr, national commander, American Ex-Prisoners of War. Al Kovak, Paralyzed Veterans of America. Jerome Bloom, national commander, Jewish War Veterans of the USA. John Rowan, president, Vietnam Veterans of America. John Betjetski, commander in chief, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. James Pigeon, national commander, AMVETS. Dale Stemper, national president, Blinded Veterans Association. Carl Good Jr, national commander, Army and Navy Union of the USA. H. Gene Overstreet, commander, Noncommissioned Officers Association. David Goff, national vice commander, the American Legion. Robert Husker, national commander, Military Order of the Purple Heart. Virgil Cornea, national president, Fleet Reserve Association. Richard Gore Sr, national commandant, Marine Corps League. Lyman Smith, executive director, Military Chaplains Association. William Mullen, national commander, Legion of Valor of the USA. Mike Plummer, deputy legislative director, National Association of Uniformed Services. Ruth Hamilton, commander in chief, Military Order of the World Wars. Lawrence Highland, national president, the Retired Enlisted Association. Thomas Kelly, Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

BERMAN: We're listening to some of the introductions at the memorial amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery. This is the Veterans Day service. We're waiting to hear from V.A. Secretary Robert McDonald and ultimately President Obama address the nation and discuss the challenges now for our veterans and how we help and serve our veterans who served us.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, as this is going on, U.S. involvement, military involvement over the world not abating. On the contrary, in fact, we are learning that the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan will continue past the date the president initially intended. We are learning that Special Forces troops headed to Syria. The challenges around the world remain.

STARR: Just about everywhere. I can't think of a place right now where the Pentagon isn't looking at the map trying to figure out what may come in the months and years ahead. You know, even Europe, today Veterans Day, whether you call it Veterans Day, Armistice Day, remembrance day, it was originally to signify the end of World War I in France in 1918. Unbelievably, we are back at Europe as a place, especially in Eastern Europe, because of Russian moves there.