THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you all for that warm welcome. Senator Dole and distinguished guests, it is my great honor -- in fact, it is humbling for me to be here at the Hidden Heroes 3rd Annual National Convening. (Applause.)
And before I get started, I want to bring greetings from a friend of mine who I just spoke to on Air Force One, and a great champion of our heroes, and a great admirer of our Hidden Heroes, I bring greetings from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump! (Applause.)
You know, the Old Book says: If you owe debts, pay debts; if honor, then honor; if respect, then respect. And I just had to come by today, on behalf of your Commander-in-Chief and the American people, to pay a debt of gratitude to all of you who have stepped up to care for our best and our bravest, America's military and veteran caregivers. Give yourselves a round of applause. (Applause.)
Senator Dole and I were just talking backstage about our veteran caregivers all across this country. Military and veteran caregivers are, in many cases, just everyday Americans.
But as you all have been celebrating all day today, our caregivers are out there doing extraordinary work each and every day. It's amazing to think that today there are more than 5.5 million Americans providing care each and every day, Hidden Heroes all. They spread to literally every corner of the United States. They're moms and dads; they're husbands and wives; they're sons and daughters; and neighbors and friends; and they are all Hidden Heroes to the American people. (Applause.)
While the stories are different, the calling is the same. It's the calling that our 16th President described so eloquently to care for them that "shall have borne the battle." And it's a noble calling indeed. Our caregivers, our Hidden Heroes, sacrifice every day to support the men and women who carry wounds or disabilities during or after their service in the Armed Forces of the United States. And we owe our heroes a debt of gratitude, and we owe these Hidden Heroes an equal measure.
The caregiver's work is constant, as you in this room know, and oftentimes very demanding. Waking up early in the morning, staying up late at night, working tirelessly in the hours in between, our Hidden Heroes tend to the injuries or illnesses of their loved ones, both visible and invisible. And whatever our wounded hero needs, the caregiver does without a second thought. They give veterans rides to the VA. They manage medications and medical appointments. They assist with activities on a daily living basis. And sometimes our caregivers take time out of their day just to be there to lend a supporting shoulder or a listening ear.
In most cases, they weren't asked to do it, but they do it selflessly and gladly, with a caring heart and a helping hand. Just like the heroes that they support, these extraordinary men and women stand ready to help whenever and however they can. And that's why our military and veteran caregivers truly are America's Hidden Heroes, and I thank you all for recognizing their contribution to the life of this nation. (Applause.)
We thank our Hidden Heroes today, but I also want to thank a great leader and a friend of mine whose vision and compassion brought us here to give these Hidden Heroes the attention that they deserve. She's an extraordinary American. I'm honored to call her a friend. And her contributions to the life of this nation are almost too many to count.
Join me in thanking Senator Elizabeth Dole -- (applause) -- once again for her incredible leadership for America's heroes and America's Hidden Heroes! (Applause.)
And when you think about the work of this organization now for some half a dozen years, it's no real surprise that Senator Dole led the effort. Frankly, she's led a life of service. Served in five different presidential administrations. And she was President Reagan's Secretary of Transportation. She was the first President Bush's Secretary of Labor. And she was the first female president of the American Red Cross since its founder a century before.
I had the privilege of serving in the United States Congress at the time that she was elected to represent her home state of North Carolina as its first female senator.
And she also knows the challenges that our wounded heroes face firsthand. She was inspired, as we all know, by one of the most well-known and courageous and inspiring wounded warriors in American history, her husband of 43 years, the remarkable Senator Robert Dole. (Applause.)
It's amazing to think, just a few weeks before the end of World War II in Europe, Bob Dole was injured in the foothills of Italy while trying to save a member of his platoon. But like many of the heroes that we remember today, he came back to the United States and endured the long and arduous journey back to wholeness. He lived for 39 months in hospitals around the country, and endured countless hours of surgery and rehabilitation.
In fact, I witnessed some of the evidence of that recently, when on a visit to the National World War II Museum -- and, Senator, I don't know if I told you, but literally as I was in the vault of the museum down in New Orleans, I came across a medical log that was proudly open to the page that described Bob Dole's treatment in the hand of his physician. I was so moved by it that I sent Bob a photo of the page. I thought it was one more evidence of how the people of this country are so grateful for Bob Dole's leadership and equally grateful for the incredible leadership of his wonderful wife, Senator Elizabeth Dole. Join me in thanking both of them again one more time, would you? (Applause.)
But their examples of personal and physical courage and compassion are really what bring us all here today. On both sides, we celebrate our heroes and our Hidden Heroes. Because the truth is, Bob Dole's story is a story of someone who served his country in the highest distinction and with the greatest evidence of courage.
And his long journey back, and the support of caregivers, shows the important role that the caregivers that we celebrate in this great organization are so important. And that's why Senator Elizabeth Dole is today helping to tell their stories with your help all across America.
Senator Dole established this foundation after her husband was hospitalized in 2011. We were just talking about it a few minutes ago. The sole purpose of this group, as you all know, is to "empower, support, and honor" military and veteran caregivers by providing encouragement and assistance, sponsoring research, raising awareness about the obstacles they face and the support they need.
And our administration, as I expect you heard in detail this morning, through our Department of Veterans Affairs, couldn't be more proud to partner with Elizabeth Dole Foundation to co-host this Third Annual National Convening and to work with you every day for our heroes and our Hidden Heroes. (Applause.)
Working with this organization, and through Elizabeth's leadership, we're shining a light on our nation's caregivers. And we're really proud to partner with this foundation in developing a critical tool that I'm told was just unveiled today -- a resource that's going to help caregivers understand the road ahead, and help others come alongside them with the right support at the right time.
Would you join me in congratulating the VA, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, and all of our private partners for completing the first-ever Military and Veteran Caregiver Experience Map? (Applause.)
This is a vital tool. It's a vital tool that will help build on all the progress that we've made. And the truth is, it will help people understand the path that lies before theme even better. And that, I think, is what was most encouraging to me when I first heard about the map. Because I expect, for many families that find themselves in these circumstances, it's the unknown that's most frightening; it's not knowing what's around the next corner; it's not having a sense of the proportion and the size and the dimensions of the challenge. But I think like anything else in life, if we can see it all at once, then we can begin to prepare, in our hearts and minds, for it. And that's what this new and innovative tool will do for families and caregivers all across this country.
And I want to promise -- I want to promise each and every one of you, and I hope you can see it as you look back over the past two years, that for our caregivers, our veterans of our armed forces, for our heroes and our Hidden Heroes, you have no better friend than President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
This President and our entire administration care deeply about the men and women of our armed forces and their families. And we've been putting feet on that commitment every single day since Inauguration Day 2017.
I mean, if you look at the actions this President has taken this year alone, it's remarkable.
For nearly a decade, the VA has provided crucial support to caregivers of veterans who were seriously injured on or after September the 11th, 2001. But just a few short months ago, with the strong support and the energetic efforts of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation -- and Elizabeth Dole -- Congress passed, and the President signed, the VA Mission Act, which extends this program to veterans from every era in America. (Applause.)
And thanks to your support, and thanks to Elizabeth's energetic and tenacious leadership, the United States of America will now support caregivers for all seriously injured veterans, no matter when or where they served.
Our administration is also implementing this program as we speak. And the VA is working, as you heard this morning, to make the application process smoother and shorter for military and veteran caregivers. Our veterans and their loved ones deserve to get the care they need as soon as possible, and we are going to see to it in this administration. And that's a promise. (Applause.)
In addition, our administration has also launched the new Center of Excellence for Veteran and Caregiver Research. This initiative, which Secretary Wilkie announced in September, will leverage research and expertise from across the country to ensure that caregivers have the tools and resources they need to support their loved ones. And because of her leadership on this vital issue, I'm pleased to announced the VA's new center will be named after Senator Elizabeth Dole. (Applause.) Well deserved.
And we know that we support our military and veteran caregivers by supporting their loved ones directly. And that's why, since day one of this administration, President Trump has taken decisive action to give America's best "America's best."
We know that veterans' benefits in this administration are not entitlements. Veterans' benefits are the ongoing compensation that was earned in the uniform of the United States of America. (Applause.) And we will keep our promises to America's veterans.
When President Trump expanded support for military and veteran caregivers, I'm pleased to report he also gave our veterans access, finally, to the real-time, world-class healthcare that they earned in the uniform of the United States. Veterans Choice is now a permanent part of Americans' veterans' healthcare law, and so it will stay. (Applause.)
We're expanding telehealth options. We've opened a brand new White House VA Hotline, run by veterans and their families, for veterans and their families. And we've made it easier for America's veterans to access the mental health services they need to treat the invisible wounds of war.
And President Trump has also taken decisive action to restore accountability to the VA. Over the past two years, I'm pleased to report, with new and renewed authorities given to us by the Congress of the United States and signed into law by the President, today more than 4,200 VA employees have been suspended, fired, or demoted for negligent behavior. We are going to make sure America's best get America's best. (Applause.)
We've also brought the VA appeals process into the 21st century, giving our nation's heroes the answers they need on a timeline they deserve. And over the last year, the VA has already identified and paid over $115 million in retroactive benefits to America's veterans.
And our administration has also made historic progress toward ending veteran homelessness. Thanks to our reforms at the VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, last year alone nearly 54,000 veterans found permanent housing and access to supportive services. (Applause.)
We've also been working hard to help America's veterans readjust to civilian life. We eliminated the expiration date for GI benefits so our veterans can get the education they need, when they need it, at any point in their lifetime. And thanks to the pro-growth policies of this administration, we're especially proud of the fact veteran unemployment reached its lowest level in nearly 20 years. (Applause.)
I know we honor our veterans by guaranteeing and ensuring that they receive the benefits that they've earned and that their caregivers have the support that they deserve. But I know you all in this room agreed, especially those who have worn the uniform, that we also honor them by supporting the men and women who are serving, at this very hour, in the uniform of the United States.
And I couldn't be more proud, as the father of a United States Marine, to serve alongside a President who signed the largest increase in our national defense since the days of Ronald Reagan. (Applause.) We're rebuilding our military and restoring the arsenal of democracy.
And I'll make you a promise: We're going to continue to stand by the men and women who are wearing the uniform of the United States. And we're once again going to give our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard the resources and the training that they need to accomplish their mission and come home.
Under President Trump's leadership, I'll make you all a promise: We'll always fight for those who fight for us, especially to those who fought for us. And we will never take our military, our veterans, heroes all, or our Hidden Heroes for granted.
You know, over the past few years, I've had the privilege to spend time with veterans all across this country and their families, and also met with active-duty military personnel as we traveled around America and traveled around the world. And it's always a very humbling experience for me.
I'm struck by what that Kansas family said to the local newspaper about feeling humbled. And I understand and appreciate that respect for the office. But I must tell you, it's always very humbling for me to be around men and women who served in the uniform of this country and their families that have served alongside them, labored at home in prayer, and then particularly those that patiently serve along with them as they recover from injuries that they endured in battle.
I've met some remarkable people, and I've met one extraordinary couple on a number of occasions. They exemplify, really, the best of our nation. They're an inspiration not only to Karen and me, but I know they're an inspiration to everyone gathered here.
The husband was an Army infantryman with the 82nd Airborne Division. In 2010, he deployed to Afghanistan and was hit by an IED. And by the grace of God, he survived and quickly returned to duty, only to be hit by another IED just two weeks later. Through his injuries, he lost an arm and a leg, suffered traumatic brain injury. And while his doctors didn't expect him to live, that warrior thought otherwise.
I recently saw him again at Walter Reed Hospital, where he'd undergone another surgery. It was the latest of literally 100 surgeries since returning home from combat. And there, as is always the case, from the first time Karen and I met them, was his wonderful wife at his side. Always with a bigger smile than his. Always radiating in optimism and in determination that explains a lot about that hero and that family.
She stood -- like our Hidden Heroes do, she stood by her husband. She fought for him and their beautiful young family. She started her own nonprofit to support our nation's wounded warriors by giving them medical care and the financial support that they need.
He's a hero; she's a Hidden Hero. And Mike and Sarah Verardo are here with us today, and I couldn't be more humbled to be here with you -- (applause) -- and to serve a country that has families like yours. (Applause.) Amazing people. Really amazing. And I expect I'll get a little bit of an eye-roll from them when I go around to say hello before I leave, because they're not really about the attention. But they are who they are, just inspiring Americans -- one in uniform and one beside the one in uniform.
And your work in this great organization recognizes that both of them serve. I know that courageous husband of hers feels that every day. And I just want to thank you. I want to thank you not only for the opportunity to address you today, but I just want to thank you for standing by our heroes and by our Hidden Heroes.
The debt that we owe to the men and women who served in uniform, in combat, who have endured physical and mental injuries as a result of their sacrifice; the debt we owe to their families that have stood beside them before, during, and after, we can never fully repay. And your efforts in this organization give evidence of the fact that you know that and that you're determined to lift up these heroes and these Hidden Heroes.
And on behalf of their Commander-In-Chief, and on behalf of my little family, I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for all that you've done at here and at the Hidden Heroes 3rd Annual National Convening. I want to thank again Senator Elizabeth Dole for her great leadership, for the generosity of so many people and organizations represented here today.
Let's just each and every one of us leave here today with a burden on our hearts to do more, whatever we've done before, for these extraordinary men and women, these extraordinary heroes and families. Let's find a way to help more. Let's find a way to lift up even more. Let's find a way to make sure that they know that the heart of every American is filled with gratitude for their service and sacrifice. Then, and only then, will we be able to say that we've done our duty for our heroes and our Hidden Heroes.
So thank you all. God bless you for your work. And God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)