country, we don’t just deploy our troops in a time of war — we deploy their families, too.
So while the mission of this department is always vital, it is even more so during long and difficult conflicts like those that we’re engaged in today. Because when the guns finally fall silent and the cameras are turned off and our troops return home, they deserve the same commitment from their government as my grandparents received.
Last month, I announced my strategy for ending the war in Iraq. And I made it very clear that this strategy would not end with military plans and diplomatic agendas, but would endure through my commitment to upholding our sacred trust with every man and woman who has served this country. And the same holds true for our troops serving in Afghanistan.
The homecoming we face over the next year and a half will be the true test of this commitment: whether we will stand with our veterans as they face new challenges — physical, psychological and economic — here at home.
I intend to start that work by making good on my pledge to transform the Department of Veterans Affairs for the 21st century. That’s an effort that, under Secretary Shinseki’s leadership, all of you have already begun — conducting a thorough review of your operations all across this agency. And I intend to support this effort not just with words of encouragement, but with resources. That’s why the budget I sent to Congress increases funding for this department by $25 billion over the next five years.
With this budget, we don’t just fully fund our VA health care program — we expand it to serve an additional 500,000 veterans by 2013; to provide better health care in more places; and to dramatically improve services related to mental health and injuries like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. We also invest in the technology to cut red tape and ease the transition from active duty. And we provide new help for homeless veterans, because those heroes have a home — it’s the country they served, the United States of America. And until we reach a day when not a single veteran sleeps on our nation’s streets, our work remains unfinished. (Applause.)
Finally, in this new century, it’s time to heed the lesson of history, that our returning veterans can form the backbone of our middle class — by implementing a GI Bill for the 21st century. I know you’re working hard under a tough deadline, but I am confident that we will be ready for August 1st. And that’s how we’ll show our servicemen and women that when you come home to America, America will be here for you. That’s how we will ensure that those who have “borne the battle” — and their families — will have every chance to live out their dreams.
I’ve had the privilege of meeting so many of these heroes. Some of the most inspiring are those that I’ve met in places like Walter Reed — young men and women who’ve lost a