Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic leaders and Members of Congress held a roundtable discussion this afternoon in the Capitol with leaders of veterans' and military service organizations. Below are the Speaker's opening remarks:
"Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you very much for coming. Wonderful to see you all. I am so pleased to be joined by our distinguished Chair of the Budget Committee and a very senior Member of the Armed Services Committee, John Spratt. The Chair of the Subcommittee on Military Quality of Life -- the name has been changed -- our champion for veterans, Congressman Chet Edwards. And Congresswoman Deborah Halvorson of Illinois. A freshman Member of Congress, a strong advocate for veterans and their rights. I saw Tim Walz floating around. There he is -- a veteran and champion again for veterans' issues in the Congress. Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. We are going to be hearing from Stephanie on some of the issues in her capacity as a senior member of the Veterans Committee. Thank you for your leadership and for being with us, Stephanie.
"Our meetings with all of you are very important to us. We look forward to them, and we are honored that so many of you join us on a regular basis. You are essential partners in our efforts to care for those who have worn our nation's uniform.
"Again, I want to take a moment -- I say again, because I had done so with some of my colleagues -- to pay special tribute to Steve Robertson of the American Legion. For some reason, he thinks he can live without us, and he is taking off. But he has been such a remarkable resource to all of us. [Applause.]
"Many of you may know that Steve served our nation in uniform for 20 years. For decades, he has been a Legionnaire, for 22 years working at the American Legion. He has become a national expert, and we all depend on him on how we can meet the needs of our veterans. We rely on him for wise counsel and his work to ensure millions of Americans receive the benefits they deserve and have earned. Thank you, Steve. Thank you very much.
"Last weekend, on Mother's Day, a number of women -- an all-women CODEL -- went to Afghanistan. We were led by Congresswoman Susan Davis who is the Chair of the Personnel Subcommittee of Armed Services. We went to pay tribute to all of our troops. We took special notice of our women, moms and even some grandmothers who were serving in Afghanistan. Imagine these young women. They had infants, 16 months old, 7 years, 12 years. One of them had four children that she was serving to protect in her service in Afghanistan.
"And I made this point with President Karzai. I said, "Mr. President, in the decisions that are made here about fighting corruption and establishing governance and building security and working to stabilize Afghanistan, we want you to know the extent of the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform.' And he did visit Walter Reed today and got some better message about that, but I told them. And then we left there and went to Landstuhl in Germany and saw our troops there. God bless them for their courage and their sacrifice and some of them had made a very, very big sacrifice for our country.
"But I wanted you to know that when we were there, we met with the women and men, but as I said, since it was Mother's Day, a special focus on the women. And how proud we are of the gathering of Marine women -- service members had formed a "Female Engagement Team.' So they would go out into the neighborhoods, the communities, the villages of Afghanistan to establish communication with women, Afghan women, to build understanding. Understanding of their culture, of ours, and it's all about security. The idea being that although it's not a matriarchal society, within the homes, these mothers have a big influence on their sons and this is a positive force for our security.
"In one way or another, all of our troops are serving us very well there, but we made it clear to President Karzai that to be worthy of their sacrifice and their time away from their families, which is a sacrifice too, that we wanted governance, ending corruption, and the rest, which are a vital part of ending the violence there.
"Because of all of you, we have been very pleased with the work that we have done and it would not have been possible without all of you. As you know, we were very pleased to have the independent budget, we were pleased to have advanced appropriations. Just this month, we signed into law the legislation by Mike Michaud and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin to help wounded warriors and their family members who care for them and to enhance health service for an ever increasing number of women veterans. Thank you, Stephanie. [Applause.]
"As I mentioned, Mr. Filner's legislation clarifying the veterans receiving care under the VA would not be impacted by health insurance reform -- it's very important to all of us. As you know, this is what -- I heard about it on this trip, whether it was the pilots, national guardsmen, whoever were flying us from one place to another -- and by the way, we were gone for 100 hours, from Thursday night to Monday night, 40 hours in flight. I mention it because everywhere along the way, the troops were saying, "Thank you for the GI Bill.' And you all are largely responsible for that. So I accepted their thanks on behalf of all of you. I said, "You know, this happened because veterans were looking out for people who are serving now.' I told them how important you were to all of that.
"In preparation for today's meeting, I know that we asked you what you wanted to talk about, what some of the priorities were because we always like to hear your priorities and then act upon them. And then I'm sure we'll hear other issues. But what has emerged from our calling around is the backlog of claims at the VA and possible efforts to reform the current system, health care for our veterans and military retirees, the persistent unemployment rate of our nation's veterans, and our Members will be responding to that, and then we'll open the floor to any other questions or conversation that you want to have.
"Now I'm very pleased to turn the meeting over to the distinguished Chair of the Veterans' Committee, Bob Filner, and congratulations on your bill passing unanimously on the floor."