Radio Address About Veterans Affairs
This past Friday marked an important anniversary for the United States. On that day one year ago--March 29, 1973-the last American combat soldier left Vietnam, and a long and painful chapter in our history was brought to an honorable conclusion.
On Friday, we again gave thanks for that peace and paid homage to those whose sacrifices had helped to win it by celebrating Vietnam Veterans Day.
But ceremony and public praise, standing alone, are not enough. Nearly 7 million men and women served America during that war--2 1/2 million of them in Vietnam itself. We owe to them an opportunity to enjoy not only our public blessings but also the real benefits of peace--the education, the jobs, the housing, the medical care, the many other advantages that make America a great nation.
We owe it to them all the more, because giving so much, they ask so little in return. The greatest gift our country gives to all of us is freedom. But freedom to be fully enjoyed must be accompanied by opportunity, the chance to play a full role in the life of our Nation.
The veterans of the late 1960's and the early 1970's too often found that the barriers to a full life were higher when they came home than when they left. The lens of the camera and the pen of the journalist had focused so often on those who had deserted America that those who bravely served were sometimes forgotten.
In early 1971, thanks to the success of our Vietnamization program, 1 million G.I.'s came home to enter the civilian labor force. However, more than 350,000 of these returning servicemen found themselves unemployed. To meet this challenge, I launched a six-point program in June of 1971 to help returning veterans find training and jobs. By January of 1973, the unemployment rate for Vietnam-era veterans had dropped from 8.1 percent to 5.4 percent, and at the end of February 1974, it stood at 5 percent, which is just below the national average.
Now, this progress is a credit to the Federal agencies that have mobilized job programs and, more especially, to two private groups, the Jobs for Veterans Committee and the National Alliance of Businessmen. With the help of the Government and public-spirited businessmen, more than 2.2 million veterans of the Vietnam era have been placed in jobs in the last 2 1/2 years.
There has also been progress on other fronts. Nearly 3 million veterans of the Vietnam era have financed their educations under the G.I. bill since 1969. Education allowances have been increased by 70 percent during this same period. The number of veterans assisted through guaranteed mortgage loans has increased by 46 percent. The Veterans Administration, which operates the largest civilian medical care system in the world, is now undertaking the biggest hospital construction program in its history.
We have added over 25,000 medical personnel to the staffs of the veterans hospitals, and we are seeking to increase spending for veterans benefits and services to $13.6 billion during the coming fiscal year. That is an increase of more than 75 percent over the expenditures when I took office.
And yet, we must all recognize that the Vietnam-era veteran needs far more help than we are providing. Despite the progress of the veterans in finding jobs, there has been a slight upturn in their unemployment over the last 3 months. There are no doubt several causes--among them the problems relating to energy-but the causes are not what matters. What matters is this: The men who fought on the battlelines in Vietnam must not come back to job lines in America. We must redouble our efforts to help these young men and women find jobs.
Vietnam-era veterans are also faced with staggering increases in the cost of higher education. That is why I have proposed that we increase their education benefits by an additional 8 percent to help them overcome the forces of inflation. This would raise the payments to a single veteran with no dependents to $240 a month, tax-free.
While there are continuing improvements in the quality of medical care in our veterans hospitals, we must also continue our efforts to ensure that all patients receive full treatment and that the most efficient use is made of their excellent facilities. We should spend whatever money is necessary so that the quality of care in these hospitals will be second to none. To investigate the quality of that care, I have directed the Administrator of Veterans Affairs to conduct a thorough investigation of the conditions of our veterans hospitals and clinics, including a personal tour of some of those facilities. He is to report to me directly within 60 days.
Some of you may recall that in a recent White House press conference, one of the most spirited reporters in Washington, Sarah McClendon of Texas, asked me why some veterans studying under the G.I. bill were not receiving their Government checks or were receiving them long after they were due.
That was a good question, and the next day I asked the Veterans Administration for an answer. I discovered that each month during the school year the Veterans Administration mails out over 1 million checks. Unfortunately, from time to time a fraction of them are delayed or misdirected. Students move to new addresses, computer printouts are slow, the paperwork is detailed.
The reasons for the occasional delays are generally understandable, but they are of very little consolation to the young men and women whose studies and family budgets are disrupted as a result. We owe it to our veterans to be absolutely sure that we are doing the best job possible for them.
And due in large part to Miss McClendon and others who have brought problems to our attention, the Veterans Administration is now engaged in a major effort to improve their operations. To make still further improvements, I have directed the Administrator of Veterans Affairs and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to set up a crack management team which will take a hard look at the services provided by the VA across the board.
Veterans need to know if we can find a better way of delivering checks on time. They need to know if there is a better way of obtaining medical services. They need to know if there is a better way to find training and jobs.
Those are the kinds of questions I want answered from this new look at veterans affairs, and I am asking for those answers within 8 weeks.
Beyond that, we need to develop a more effective and coordinated approach to veterans affairs on a permanent basis. The health and welfare of our veterans is one of the biggest concerns of the Federal Government.
The Veterans Administration is the second largest agency in the Government. It has the third largest budget. There are additional veterans programs in 17 other departments. The Labor Department, for instance, helps veterans with their training and employment needs. ACTION, the agency for volunteer action, has just launched a cooperative program with the Veterans Administration to reach Vietnam-era veterans in communities where they live, to encourage them to take advantage of their G.I. benefits.
To ensure that we have policies which pull together the activities of the entire Government and more fully meet the needs of the veterans, I am today creating a new Domestic Council Committee on Veterans Services. It will be chaired by the Administrator of Veterans Affairs, Mr. Donald Johnson. Its membership will include four members of the Cabinet and others.
I personally urge today that all veterans take advantage of the full range of benefits that are now available in this country. Nothing would please me more than to recommend more money for these programs as more veterans participate.
Each of you listening to me can help, too. You can help by employing the veteran. We trusted them with our country's honor in Vietnam. They met the test. Now we can trust them in our industries and places of business here at home.
At the close of America's tragic Civil War, Abraham Lincoln described the duty which all of us share as citizens. In his eloquent Second Inaugural Address, he said:
"... let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and [his] orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations."
Today, a year after the end of another long and bitter war--and only 27 months before America's 200th anniversary--let us rededicate ourselves to that goal by paying respect to the men and women who served America at a difficult time. Let us make sure that a grateful Nation remembers them in deeds as well as in words.
Thank you and good afternoon.
Note: The President spoke at 1:06 p.m. from his home in Key Biscayne, Fla. The address was broadcast live on nationwide radio. On the same day, the White House released an advance text of the President's address.
On April 4, 1974, the President opened the first meeting of the Domestic Council Committee on Veterans Services in the Cabinet Room at the White House. Present at the meeting with the President and Mr. Johnson were: Peter J. Brennan, Secretary of Labor; Caspar W. Weinberger, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare; Roy L. Ash, Director of the Office of Management and Budget; Kenneth R. Cole, Jr., Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs and Executive Director of the Domestic Council; Michael P. Balzano, Jr., Director of ACTION; and William P. Clements, Jr., Deputy Secretary of Defense (representing the Secretary of Defense). Later the same day, the White House released the transcript of a news briefing by Mr. Johnson on the meeting.
Richard Nixon, Radio Address About Veterans Affairs Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/256626