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Obama, V.A. Secretary Honor Veterans, Military on Veterans Day. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired November 11, 2015 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: 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 looking at Europe as a place, especially in Eastern Europe, because of Russian moves there, there's no question about that. In Ukraine, in Crimea, so many nations in eastern Europe unsettled and looking to the United States to provide some military backup power in an emergency, to provide military troops, to help train them, get them ready, get them advanced weapons so they feel more comfortable with those Russian moves on their borders in eastern Europe.

Did anybody, you know, two years ago, think we would be standing here talking about Poland, Ukraine, countries which had finally come after so many decades of war into an era of peace? Now again those are very unsettled places as they look further east to what Vladimir Putin may be up to. It's a real lesson, I think, that America's veterans really truly called to serve anywhere any time when they are on active duty.

You know, those introductions we just heard, that really represents the backbone of America's veterans, Polish veterans, Catholic veterans, Jewish, those who are paralyzed, those who are disabled, officers enlisted. Those people who are standing up there for these, you know, sort of typical Washington pro forma introductions at some ceremony really fundamentally do represent the history of this nation and of military service. All segments. And as I said a minute ago, it may be about to change again with the new year if the Pentagon makes the expected decision to allow women to serve in combat positions. Young American women in high school looking possibly for any type of military career, the doors will be open to them to serve as well. Another new generation of service really opening up for America's young people.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And, Spider, this is coming at the end of this president's term as he's kind of winding it down and, of course, that's when presidents start looking at their legacy. And this is definitely a president who wouldn't anticipate speaking before the nation's veterans on a day like this when he wanted to wind down two wars and now sending more and more military men and women into very dangerous places.

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It's the right thing to do. He understands he cannot disengage. He has to stay engaged for a whole host of reasons primarily because if we are going to remain, some could argue that we are atrophying, if we're going to remain an international power and a leader, we have to be able to commit our resources and to really make a difference so that others can galvanize around us. We can't lead from behind. We've heard that before. I have no clue what that means, none. You have to lead from the front. And you have to be out there. So this president, I think, understands that he's got to get into those messy situations. You've got to embrace this chaos. This world is nothing but chaos right now. You've got to embrace it and try to make a difference, and you do that by staying engaged. And the military is not the way you do that. We all know that. Diplomatic, informational, economic ways to do this. But the military routinely of all those elements of power, routinely stands up because there is no variance in terms of what the standard is. You can't play with that.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Spider, stand by.

Barbara Starr, stand by.

The president getting ready to speak, to address the nation on this Veterans Day. We'll be right back.


[11:36:44] BERMAN: You're looking at the secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert McDonald, addressing an audience at Arlington National Cemetery, the memorial amphitheater on this Veterans Day. Let's listen.

ROBERT MCDONALD, VETERAN AFFAIRS ADMINISTRATION SECRETARY: Captain Grobert is emblematic of the service and sacrifices of young men and women from every generation of American veterans.

For almost two and a half centuries now, they have selflessly answered the calls to arms to preserve and defend the ideas behind the words that are both vision and conscious of our democracy, "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Each generation has done its part to deliver a strong and free America to the next generation. They have done so with great determination, personal toughness, and willingness to risk it all for others.

This Veterans Day, we want to especially acknowledge those who served in two difficult conflicts. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and the beginning of our 50th commemoration of the decade-long war in Vietnam. To those who fought in both wars, thank you for your selfless service. Americans are ever grateful for your sacrifices.

The president and vice president understand and value the service and sacrifice of veterans. That's why they've provided strong and increasing resources for care and benefits, support of the new G.I. Bill to educate the next generation of American leaders, tremendous support to help V.A. drive down the backlog and claims by almost 90 percent and to improve access to quality health care for all veterans. As the president said in his State of the Union address this year, as a new generation of veterans come home, we owe them every opportunity to live the American dream they helped defend.

The first lady and Dr. Jill Biden are also unwavering supporters of veterans and servicemembers in their own right. They have joined forces to bring the public and private sectors together in support of employment of servicemembers, veterans, and all of their family members, among many other initiatives. Veterans could not ask for stronger advocates than our president, vice president and their wives.

Ladies and gentlemen, it's a great personal and professional honor to present to you our commander-in-chief. Please join me in welcoming the president of the United States, Barack Obama.




OBAMA: Please be seated.


OBAMA: Thank you.

Thank you, Bob, for your service to our nation as an Army Airborne ranger and your tireless work on behalf of your fellow veterans.

To Vice President Joe Biden, General Dunford, Major General Becker, distinguished guests, to our outstanding veterans' service organizations and their leadership, to our men and women in uniform and, most of all, to our proud veterans and your families, it is a great privilege to be with you once again.

[11:40:31] And to Captain Florent Grobert, as Bob just mentioned, tomorrow, it will be my honor to present you with the Medal of Honor, our nation's highest military decoration.

To all our veterans here today, the veterans across America, whether you served on the beaches of Europe, the jungles of Asia, the deserts of the Middle East, whether you served here at home or overseas, in wartime or in peace, whether you served proudly in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard, you are part of an unbroken chain of patriots who have served this country with honor through the life of our nation. On these sacred grounds, where generations of heroes have come to rest, we remember all those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. And today, we gather once more to salute every patriot who has ever proudly worn the uniform of the United States of America.

This year, as we mark 70 years since our victory in the Second World War, we pay special tribute to a generation that literally saved the world. We're joined by several of those heroes, including our oldest known female World War II vet, Army Lieutenant Colonel Luta C. McGrath, who this year turns 108. There she is.


OBAMA: And I would ask all of our veterans and families of World War II, if you can stand, please stand or raise your hand so America can thank you one more time.


OBAMA: Today, in big cities and small towns across our country, there will be ceremonies around flagpoles and parades down Main Street to properly express our gratitude, to show our appreciation to the men and women who serve so that we might live free. It is right that we do so. But our tributes will ring hollow if we stop there. If tomorrow, after the parades and the ceremonies we roll up the banners and sweep the veterans halls and go back to our daily lives, forgetting the bond between the service of our veterans and our obligations as citizens, then we will be doing a profound disservice to our veterans and to the very cause for which they served.

This day is not only about gratitude for what they have done for us. It is also a reminder of all that they still have to give to our nation and our duty to them. That's what I want to talk about briefly today. We're in the midst of a new wave of American veterans. In recent years, more than one million of our men and women in uniform, many of them veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, have completed their military service and returned to civilian life. Each year at least another 200,000 do the same. Our 9/11 generation of veterans are joining the ranks of those who have come before, including many of you, our veterans of Korea and Vietnam. Our tributes today will ring hollow if we do not ensure that our veterans receive the care that you have earned and that you deserve.

[11:45:03] The good news is that in recent years, we've made historic investments to boost the V.A. budget, expand benefits, offer more mental health care and improved care for our wounded warriors, especially those with posttraumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. We've now slashed the disability claims backlog by nearly 90 percent. We're reducing the outrage of veterans' homelessness and have helped tens of thousands of our veterans get off the streets. Still, the unacceptable problems that we've seen like long wait times and some veterans not getting the timely care that they need is a challenge for all of us if we are to match our words with deeds.

And my message to every single veteran, to veterans all across this country, is that I am still not satisfied. And Bob McDonald is still not satisfied. And we are going to keep investing in the facilities and the physicians and the staff to make sure that our veterans get the care that you need when you need it. That is our obligation, and we are not going to let up.


OBAMA: Our tributes today will also ring hollow if we don't provide our veterans with the jobs and opportunities that you need when you come home. That's why we've helped more than 1.5 million veterans and their families pursue an education under the post-9/11 G.I. Bill. That's why we worked to make sure that every state now provides veterans and their families with in-state tuition. That's why we're fighting to make it easier for our veterans to get the licenses and certifications to transition the outstanding skills they gained in the armed services to civilian jobs. That's why we're helping more veterans and military spouses find jobs. And today, the veterans' unemployment rate is down to 3.9 percent, even lower than the national average.


OBAMA: But this can't just be a job for government. We all have a role to play. I realize that with less than 1 percent of Americans serving in uniform, the other 99 percent of folks don't always see and appreciate the incredible skills and assets that our veterans can offer.

On this Veterans Day, here's what I want every American to know. Our veterans are some of the most talented, driven, capable people on earth. Think about the leadership that they've learned. 20- somethings leading platoons in life-or-death situations. The cutting- edge technologies that they've mastered. Their ability to adapt to changing and unpredictable situations. They can perform under pressure. They've helped reconstruct towns. They've managed large- scale projects. They've learned how to work on teams, how to stay committed to a mission, how to solve problems. They get stuff done, and they are selfless, and they are brave, and they are qualified. And America needs folks who know how to get stuff done.


OBAMA: If you can save a life on the battlefield, you can save a life in an ambulance. If you can oversee a convoy or millions of dollars of assets in a conflict zone, you sure can help manage a company's supply chain. If you can maintain the most advanced weapons in the world, surely you can manufacture the next generation of advanced technology right here at home.

Our veterans will tell you themselves, they may have put away their uniforms, but they're not finished serving their country. And that includes our wounded warriors, who tell me that as soon as they can, they want to serve their country again. They're exactly the kind of people we need to keep America competitive in the 21st century.

That's why more and more companies are hiring veterans, not out of charity, not out of patriotism or some moral obligation, although they do have those obligations, but because they know it's good for their bottom line. Every day our veterans help keep America strong. Every day. Responding to natural disasters here at home and around the world. Working to end homelessness and get more of their brothers and sisters in arms the resources they need to transition into civilian life. They're starting their own businesses, like the two veterans who started a coffee shop that's so good my own staff voted to have it served in the White House.


[11:50:05] OBAMA: And understand we consume a lot of coffee in the White House. So to my sleep-deprived staff, those guys are pretty heroic.

Our veterans are moms and dads and teachers and doctor and engineers and entrepreneurs, social workers and community leaders. They have serving in statehouses across the country, serving in Congress.

We have a proud veteran, retired Navy Captain Scott Kelly, commander of the international space station, who is up there right now, just became the American astronaut to serve the longest consecutive flight in space.


OBAMA: Our veterans are already making America great every single day. So my message today is simple, if you want to get the job done, hire a vet. If you are a business that needs team players who need to know how to lead and execute, hire a vet. If you are a school system that needs dedicated and passionate teachers, hire a veteran. If you need somebody who is tested and can follow through, hire a veteran. Every sector and community can benefit from the incredible talents of the veterans. They are ready to serve, and they will make you proud.


OBAMA: I wanted to give you just one example, a young woman named Jennifer Madden. Jen joined the Army at 17 years old. She wanted to be just like her grandpa, a Korean War veteran. Her very first day of basic training was September 11th, 2001. She pulled a deployment where she lost one of her best friends in combat. When she came home, she could not get back into her own life and found she could not stay focused at school or at work, and struggling to relate to family and friends, and soon she was self-medicating and became homeless. Jen felt like she had lost her mission, her sense of purpose. But then thanks to the organization that connects veterans with therapists who donate their time, Jen was able to get counseling at no charge. She started to deal with the post-traumatic stress, and with a lot of hard work, she started to pull her life back together. And today, Jen and the love of her life, Josh, are raising two children and she is a licensed nurse working at a rehab facility helping folks who were just like her, including veterans, to get back on their feet. And through Michelle and Jill Biden's Joining Forces Initiative, she is an advocate for her fellow veterans.

Jen is here today. And I want Jen to stand if she can, because I want everybody to thank her for her courage, her example, and for her telling the story. And we are extraordinarily grateful.

Thank you, Jen.


OBAMA: And I tell Jen's story because, like all of the brave men and women in uniform, Jen represents the best of who we are as a nation. She has sacrificed for us, and sometimes has the scars seen and unseen that are part of that sacrifice. And she's an example of what is possible when we express our gratitude, not just in words, not just on one day, but through deeds everyday when we open up our hearts and give hope to the returning heroes, and we harness your talents and your drive, and when we honor the inherent sense of purpose, and empower you to continue serving the country that you love.

What has always made America great, what has always made us exceptional are the patriots who, generation after generation, dedicate themselves to building a nation that is stronger, freer, and a little bit more perfect.

On this day and everyday, we thank you.

God bless our veterans and your families, and God bless the United States of America.


[11:55:14] BERMAN: President Obama finishing up the remarks at the memorial amphitheater, Arlington National Cemetery, saying of the veterans in this nation, 19 million of them, I am still not satisfied, and we have to do more to serve these men and women.

BOLDUAN: The message to the veterans, and a very clear message sent to the nation when he said hire a veteran. You need help here, hire a veteran, because system of the best employees that you will get. A strong message from President Obama right here.

Major General Spider Marks is here still.

You get two messages from the President. I thought it was really -- I loved the line when he said about the veterans, an unbroken chain of veterans, even pointing out the oldest known World War II veteran female 108 at the ceremony.

BERMAN: 108. She was there.

BOLDUAN: She was there. I wish we had a camera there and we could have seen her when he pointed her out.

What do you think that the message should be? What is the message going forward?

MARKS: Well, clearly, the chain is unbroken and individual links within the chain periodically snap and break. Can the V.A. and the brothers and sisters and veterans put it out there together? The answer is yes. He gave a great example of Jen Madden, the young veteran from these wars.

But the real message is that this is forever, it's a continuum, and this is going to go on forever and ever. And oh, by the way, the notion of women serving in all branches and in all verticals, all areas of the service doesn't come as a surprise to me. I was raised by women, and they have always been in charge and should be in charge.

BERMAN: And Kate said it is an unbroken chain to the past but it is also something we have to think about and plan for in the future. He talks about the new wave of veterans that we wills see. MARKS: And these veterans coming out have immense capabilities, and they are the leaders and asked to do the impossible at levels below, and within the organization, magic occurs. And so organizations should seek them out for selfish reasons. Let's forget about the patriotism, because I want to hire the vet.

BERMAN: Hire a vet.

MARKS: We hire vets all the time, because they get stuff done.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Spider, thank you very much, on everyday and especially this day.

MARKS: Thank you very much.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

BERMAN: Thank you all very much for joining us AT THIS HOUR.

BOLDUAN: "Legal View" with Ashleigh Banfield starts right after this.