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President Bush Speaks Before Veterans of Foreign Wars

Aired August 20, 2001 - 12:11   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush has begun his remarks to a group in which he should feel very comfortable, the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Let's go now to Milwaukee.

(APPLAUSE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In Europe last month, one of my last stops was Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo.

BUSH: I went there to thank our servicemen and -women for their sacrifice for our nation. I took the occasion to make good on a promise by signing a bill to allocate over $2 billion in additional appropriations for military pay, benefits, health and housing.

(APPLAUSE)

To restore the strength and morale of America's armed forces, we must first take care of the people who wear our uniform.

(APPLAUSE)

I believe we're making every branch of service a place where men and women are proud to serve, and as importantly, proud to stay.

(APPLAUSE)

My administration understands America's obligations not only to go to those who wear the uniform today, but to those who wore the uniform in the past -- to our veterans. And at times, those obligations have not been met.

(APPLAUSE)

Veterans in need of care have been kept waiting and thousands of veterans' claims have been delayed or in some cases lost in the bureaucracy. Many veterans have observed that the government seemed to work a lot more efficiently when it wanted something from them. When the draft board got your file, it worked efficiently.

(LAUGHTER)

But now when you need health care, forms get lost and answers come late. That is no way to treat America's veterans and that is going to change. (APPLAUSE)

Secretary Principi is conducting a top-to-bottom review of the claims processing. Currently, there are about 600,000 pending applications, of which 53,000 have been pending over a year. Many of those belong to veterans over 70 years of age. That's not right. I have given Secretary Principi the clearest of clear mandates. He must bring those claims to a speedy and fair resolution.

BUSH: We must move as quickly as possible on the backlog, and we will.

(APPLAUSE)

We will improve cooperation between the VA and the Department of Defense in providing care to those who served. In May, I signed an executive order creating a presidential task force to recommend major reforms in the delivery of health care to veterans and military retirees.

Two distinguished Americans will lead that task force, Dr. Gail Wilensky, an expert on health policy and a faithful friend to the veterans and former Congressman Jerry Soloman. One might be tempted to call him an ex-Marine. But we all know there's no such thing as an ex-Marine.

(APPLAUSE)

Making great progress on implementing the Veterans Millennium Health Care act, to ensure that our veterans receive high-quality care. The budget I submitted to Congress, I requested an increase of $1 billion additional money for veteran services. Secretary Principi recently announced new health care facilities for veterans. Six new centers for Parkinson's disease research and care, and 41 new outpatient clinics in 28 states. Veterans area priority.

(APPLAUSE)

Veterans are a priority for this administration. I put a good man in charge, and that priority is reflected in my budget.

Our budget also meets the most fundamental responsibility a president bears, to provide security for the United States of America. Not only does the budget take care of our people, we give today's military what it needs to operate: equipment, spare parts, advanced training. In all, I've asked Congress to provide our military an increase of $39 billion over the original 2001 appropriations. This is the largest increase in military spending, since Ronald Reagan was the commander-in-chief.

(APPLAUSE)

We're not only going to spend more on national defense, we're also going to spend it more wisely. Secretary Rumsfeld is charged with developing a strategy to bolster today's military, and he's charged with developing a strategy to develop a military that's ready to defend America tomorrow, as well. A modern military requires major investment in research and development so that our military is always the finest in the world.

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH: And something I offered last year as a promise is today a commitment: to research, develop and deploy a defense against ballistic missiles.

(APPLAUSE)

These are the priorities I submitted to Congress in February, and priorities reflected in the budget amendment in June. I trust they'll be reflected in the appropriations bills Congress sends me this fall for my signature.

As we enter the appropriations process, I have great hopes, but no illusions. Washington has its own way of doing things, especially around the time of year when final appropriations are made. The spending bills are passed one after another -- 13 in all. Everybody in Washington knows there's a budget, but new spending gets thrown in a long the way. Finally, when it's time to pass the last bill, they realize they're just about to go over the budget. And often, and sadly, the final bill has been the defense appropriations bill, and therefore defense appropriations has gone without adequate funding.

That's the old way of doing business. That's old style of thinking. I have a better idea. Let's abandon the old ways of gamesmanship, standoffs and government shutdowns. Let us keep our priorities straight and start with the things that matter most to our country's security and our country's future. This year, let us have responsible spending from day one and put the national security and education of our children first in line when it comes to the appropriations process.

(APPLAUSE)

I hope you all watch very carefully. It's important that people pay attention to what goes on in Washington. It will be an interesting signal about the priorities of the leaders of the United States Congress when they let those appropriations bills out to come to my desk. I'm confident I can work with Congress on appropriations because we've worked closely together on other issues. We saw bipartisan votes on the budget itself. And they passed and I signed and the mailman is delivering the first major income tax relief in a generation.

(APPLAUSE)

And we also worked together in honoring veterans.

BUSH: Members of the VFW have long advocated a fitting memorial to those who served in the Second World War. The World War II memorial has been in the works for an awfully long time. The final obstacles have been removed. I've signed it into law. And soon the veterans of World War II will have their place of honor in the heart of our nation's capital.

(APPLAUSE)

In the heart of Washington, D.C., that Monument will stand for all time as a reminder of service and sacrifice.

Not far away are monuments to those who fought in other wars across the world. For all of these, service in time of war was a defining experience in your life. Your brave and selfless conduct has defined the best of our country.

America does not seek to produce more generations of war veterans. We're a peaceful nation. But we'll always need the commitment and courage and honor that we find in our veterans. Those who have worn the uniform have made a contribution not just to the defense of our nation, but to the character of our nation. You've given your best to America, and in so many ways you are the best that is in America. For all that, you have the deep respect of those who wear the uniform today, the commander-in-chief as well, and you have the gratitude of a nation that is in debt.

Thank you for letting me come. May God bless our veterans.

(APPLAUSE)

HARRIS: President Bush there speaking before a very warm crowd, the Veterans of Foreign Wars assembled there in Milwaukee, Wisconsin this morning. He basically got there -- he tickled their fancies quite a bit when he noted that government works efficiently when it wanted something from them, like when it had their draft files. But when the veterans needed something like health care, the government was not very efficient, and he wanted to change that.

He did announce one thing that he would do specifically regarding that change, and that is he reached out to Congress to address the way the appropriations bills usually come down. In the past, he says that the appropriations bill governing what's given to the military has always come in toward the end, and therefore, is dealt with getting the scraps that Congress has left over in the budgeting process. He is now proposing that national security and education go to the front of the appropriations line and be dealt with first before Congress goes onto other spending. We will check and see how that is received later on.

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