Thursday, March 26th, 2009 at 4:54 pm
Wrapping Up Open for Questions
The initial run of Open for Questions came to a close with the President’s online town hall this morning. With almost a hundred thousand participants and more than three and a half million votes, it was an eye-opening experience and showed the potential of what this kind of open engagement can accomplish. The online town hall had an amazing feel of something that had never been done before, and something we should be trying to do more of. If you missed it, watch the video of the entire event:
Here's his answer to the top question in the Veterans category:
DR. BERNSTEIN: Thank you for clearing that up. (Laughter.) This next question comes from Columbia, South Carolina: "The unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is higher than the national unemployment rate. Our veterans are a national treasure. How can you, the VA, and I ensure our veterans are successfully transitioning into civilian life?"
THE PRESIDENT: That's a great question. You know, I had just an extraordinary honor -- yesterday was Medal of Honor Day. And I went to Arlington National Cemetery, and we had a ceremony in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with a collection of Medal of Honor winners from all our various wars.
And a special place of honor was a guy named John Finn, who had been present the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. He was on one of the ships, was shot by -- was strafed by the fire from the planes coming in, and yet still had the presence of mind to shoot down a plane, and won the Medal of Honor -- or was awarded the Medal of Honor for that.
And it just reminds you that we wouldn't be here if it hadn't been for the sacrifices of earlier veterans. We would not -- (applause) -- we would not enjoy the same safety and security and liberty that we do.
So when our veterans come home from Iraq and Afghanistan -- and they have performed brilliantly, they have done everything that's been asked of them, regardless of what your views are on these wars -- they have earned these benefits that all too often we fail to give them.
And that's why in my budget we are increasing veterans funding by more than any time in the last 30 years. We're going to make sure that we deal with the -- (applause) -- we're going to make sure that deal with the backlog that too many veterans experience in terms of getting benefits. We're going to make sure that homeless veterans are receiving housing and services.
The homeless rate for veterans is multiple times higher than it is for non-veterans. That's inexcusable. It means that we're going to provide services for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, that we're going to provide services for Traumatic Brain Injury that are the signature injuries of these recent wars. So we are going to significantly increase veterans spending.
Now, just as is true generally, government alone can't do it. So all of us individually are going to have roles. If you're a business owner, hiring a veteran, not discriminating against somebody who's a veteran is going to be absolutely critical. In your communities, in your churches, in your neighborhoods, making sure that there's outreach and celebration of veterans when they come home, that's going to be critical.
I think we've done a much better job during these wars than we did during Vietnam, where in many cases our treatment of veterans was inexcusable. But we can always do more. Government is going to do its role, and then we've got to make sure that our communities do their role, as well.