Mr. Driver, distinguished public servants, ladies and gentlemen:
I am pleased to be able to meet you as you assess your progress and plan your work ahead.
I think all of you realize that you administer one of the most far-reaching of our entire Government programs.
American veterans and their dependents, and the widows and orphans of those who have died, total about 49 percent of this Nation's population. This is the size of your clientele.
Legislation that we have proposed which is now on its way through the Congress will entitle the veterans of Vietnam to the same benefits available to those who served in earlier wars.
This is work that is close to the Nation's heart. This country has a very deep commitment to the men and women who serve in its defense. The programs, therefore, that you administer for them are of fundamental human importance.
So I ask you to please keep three things constantly and clearly in your mind:
First, remember always that yours is the voice and the hand of the people's government. We here in Washington can dream up and design programs, but you and your 169,000 employees across the land actually represent the Government's 26 million veterans and their families. You are the Government to them.
This is a very heavy responsibility, but it is also a very great honor.
The bigger the government, the more urgent is the need to keep that government and government services personal. They must always be available to the people. The kind of government Americans appreciate most is illustrated by new Veterans Administration services.
You have teams in Vietnam now talking to men who will be coming home for discharge when their duty is over. They are counseling fighting men on the fights they will be entitled to when they come back to civilian life.
You have other teams visiting military hospitals, seeking out the wounded and disabled, advising them of the special assistance that their countrymen have accorded them in partial recompense for their suffering.
Second, I ask you to recall the constant need for better service through cost reduction. The record of the Veterans Administration in this area is quite good. Although you spend billions of dollars of Federal funds, your administrative costs account for only 2.8 percent of that amount. Only 3 years ago that figure was 3 percent.
In percentage terms, this sounds trivial, but in net terms it amounts to more than $10 million.
We are very proud of Mr. Driver. We are very proud of all of his staff here. We are particularly proud of you and these results that you have obtained.
But none of us can ever allow ourselves to be completely satisfied. Any record, even though it is good, can always be improved.
So I ask you this afternoon to keep improving the record you have already made, the good record you have made.
Keep searching for new ways to shave costs so that the dollars that we have to spend on the crucial work of caring for our veterans can be used as effectively as possible.
Finally, I want to emphasize your obligation to work with other Federal offices, with State and local governments, and with the civilian community.
The needs of all Americans are too intertwined to permit any agency or any field office of our Government to try to operate alone, or try to operate in isolation.
The recent history of the Veterans Administration provides stirring examples of what can be accomplished.
Three months ago your hospital in Baltimore was redesignated for general use. It was the last of 23 that were devoted exclusively only a decade ago to the treatment of tuberculosis. Now only one wing of one hospital is needed for that purpose.
This resolution was made possible by massive research in drug therapy conducted in Veterans Administration laboratories. Not only are many veterans alive today, leading active lives, because of this pioneering work, but that research was utilized for the welfare of all Americans, and, for that matter, all people throughout the world.
Tuberculosis has virtually disappeared as a major killer in the United States. The Veterans Administration thus launched a worldwide campaign against this ancient scourge of mankind.
While you are here visiting us in Washington, I hope that you will stand for a few moments in front of the Veterans Administration building and read Abraham Lincoln's century-old dedication: "To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan."
There is no job in all of our Government that is more important than to be the trustee, to be the guardian, and to provide the care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and for his orphan.
So you and your children should be thankful that you have been selected from a very special group in this Nation to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and to care for his widow and his orphan.
Today, as we enjoy the peaceful serenity of the beautiful Rose Garden here at the White House, there are those who are acting as our trustees in faraway lands, in most difficult circumstances. We are very proud of what they are doing.
I want to ask you to make them proud of what you are doing to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan.
I welcome you here to the White House with a special sentimentality. The first assignment I had when I was a youngster and came to this town 36 years ago was to frequent the Veterans Administration in General Hines' day, and even go all the way up to those appeal boards, most of which I thought had already arrived at a conclusion before I got there.
Generally, I found that if you were willing and persistent enough even on those most difficult cases the compassionate hand of understanding would try to help care for him who had borne the battle. So never let' that get far from you.
If you have a doubt to resolve--and we live. in a world that is filled with doubts--resolve it in their favor, won't you?
Thank you very much.