limb or even their ability to take care of themselves, but who never lose the pride they feel for their country. And that is, after all, what led them to wear the uniform in the first place — their unwavering belief in the idea of America; that no matter where you come from, what you look like, who your parents are, this is a place where anything is possible, where anyone can make it, where we take care of each other and look out for each other — especially for those who’ve sacrificed so much for this country.
These are the ideals that generations of Americans have fought for and bled for and died for. These are the ideals at the core of your mission — a mission that dates back before our founding — one taken up by our first President years before he took office, back when he served as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. Then-General Washington fought tirelessly to support the veterans of America’s Revolutionary War. Such support, he argued, should “never be considered as a pension or gratuity…” Rather, “…it was the price of their blood,” and of our independence; “…it is, therefore,” he said, “more than a common debt, it is a debt of honor…” A debt of honor.
Washington understood that caring for our veterans was more than just a way of thanking them for their service. He recognized the obligation is deeper than that — that when our fellow citizens commit themselves to shed blood for us, that binds our fates with theirs in a way that nothing else can. And in the end, caring for those who have given their fullest measure of devotion to us — and for their families — is a matter of honor — as a nation and as a people.
That’s a responsibility you hold, that’s the work that you do — repaying that debt of honor, a debt we can never fully discharge. And I know it’s not always easy. I know there’s much work ahead to transform this agency for the 21st century. But I have the fullest confidence that with Secretary Shinseki’s leadership, and with the hard work of the men and women of this department, we will fulfill our sacred trust and serve our returning heroes as well as they’ve served us.
Thank you. God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America. Thank you, everybody. (Applause.)
(Source: White House)