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Remarks at the AMVETS (American Veterans) 75th National Convention in Louisville, Kentucky

August 21, 2019

The President. Well, thank you very much. That's a great honor. Great people. Thank you. [Laughter] Sit down, please. Thank you. And I want to thank Commander Riley. Truly thrilled to be here with thousands of America's proudest and toughest and most extraordinary patriots: the incredible veterans of AMVETS. We love our veterans. AMVETS. Thank you very much. You're special people.

You fought courageously for our country, and now my administration is fighting courageously for you. That's for sure. And, you know, we've accomplished a lot. We've done a lot. And one of the things we have done is you get that medical care quickly now when you go into those doctors. And you used to have to wait for weeks and weeks and weeks. And you don't wait anymore. You go out and see a private doctor, and we pay the bill. And people are really happy about it, and the vets are very happy about it.

Veterans Choice, as you've been trying to get that for 44 years, they say—44 years. I guess it's longer than that; probably earlier than that. But for 44 years, at least, that we know of. And you got it, so congratulations. Hopefully, you don't have to use it too often because you're going to feel great. Okay?

To every veteran here today and all across our land, thank you for your noble and incredible service. It's an honor, really, of my life. I understand that I'm the first Commander in Chief, first President, to address you and be here. And that's something that's very special. And it's also an honor to be the Commander in Chief of the greatest fighting force the world has ever known: the United States military. And it's stronger today. And it's a lot stronger today than it was 2½ years ago, I can tell you that. A lot stronger today. A lot stronger.

Seven hundred billion dollars we spent, and then 716 billion. That's with a "b." And this year it's $738 billion. So we've rebuilt your military, and it's stronger than ever before. And that was really needed. It was depleted. It was tired. It was exhausted. And you know that better than I do. But we have totally rebuilt it.

I want to thank your outstanding national commander, Rege Riley, as well as your terrific executive director, Joe Chenelly. Where is Joe? Joe, thank you. Where's Joe? Thank you, Joe. That's not a very good seat for you, Joe. Huh? Give that mention right up top. But look. See? You want to give other people the better seats. I like that type of person. Right? [Laughter] Thank you, Joe.

It's also my privilege to recognize your national first vice commander, the highest ranking woman in AMVETS history, retired Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Jan Brown. Jan? Thank you, Jan. Thank you.

Congratulations as well to this year's recipients of the Silver Helmet Awards, especially a dear friend who is an inspiration to all Americans: World War II veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Woody Williams. Where's Woody? Thank you, Woody. You're looking good, Woody. [Laughter] Woody is looking good. That was a big day—Medal of Honor. Nothing like the Medal of Honor. I wanted one, but they told me I don't qualify, Woody. [Laughter] I said, "Can I give it to myself anyway?" They said, "I don't think that's a good idea." [Laughter] Great, great people. These are great, great men and women that get the congressional Medal of Honor. Thank you, Woody. We are unbelievably grateful to all of the members of AMVETS Ladies Auxiliary. They've worked so hard. And the Sons of AMVETS, and the Junior AMVETS, and, of course, the legendary AMVETS Riders, who are fighting to keep alive the spirit of Rolling Thunder. I love Rolling Thunder—that noise. Wow. Rolling Thunder. We're taking care of Rolling Thunder, since I've been there. Rolling Thunder, please stand up. You have so many great people. So many great people. Thank you. Thank you. And the leaders are all here too. Thank you. And we'll see you in a little while, in Washington. And to honor the prisoners of war and those missing in action, today we renew our vow that America will never, ever forget. It's a great—[applause]—thank you.

Great to be joined by a number of champions for America's veterans, including Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Betsy? Betsy. Doing a great job. Deputy VA Secretary James Byrne. James, thank you. Great job. A man who has really done a great job. I don't know if he's appreciated. Sometimes, it doesn't work out that way, but he's done an incredible job, and your State is doing phenomenal business, and I want to take all of the credit but I can't, because I have to give him a lot too, because he has been a truly great Governor: Matt Bevin. Thank you, Matt.

And you know, Kentucky has record numbers right now. It's the best year they've ever had in just about every category. So it's really an incredible thing.

And a man who I just watched on television; he's so good. You can do television for me anytime you want. Congressman Thomas Massie. Where's Thomas? Good job. Thomas, say hello to our friends. Say hello to our friends back in Washington. That was a good job. Just watched you.

I cannot come to Kentucky without also praising the exceptional work of Senator Mitch McConnell. I have to tell you, this guy is a true fighter for our veterans and for Kentucky. He's worked tirelessly to enact massive tax cuts, record defense spending, and crucial VA reform that I was just talking about.

And I have to think—yet, of all the things with respect to Mitch. Mitch is a—he's a good person, but his leadership in the Senate, we've confirmed—think of this—almost 150 Federal judges to uphold our Nation's beloved Constitution and the foundation of American freedom.

And Mitch and I have worked very hard. We're up to 150. Within about 2 months, we'll be at 179 Federal judges and two Supreme Court judges. And—it's your Senator. And it's—for him, that's a passion like I've never seen before. And there is nothing more important.

You know, when I became President, he said, "The most important thing you can do is judges." And in particular, they said, Supreme Court Justices. Well, as you know, we've named two Supreme Court Justices, right? Justice Kavanaugh, Justice Gorsuch. And I want to just congratulate Mitch McConnell. And you have him. You have him. And he's a champion. And he fights hard. And he really is something special, and he loves your State. And I'll be here campaigning for Mitch, and I'll be campaigning for Matt. And we're going to get them both back in. And I just had to say, because Mitch has been somebody very special, and Matt knows that as well.

This year, we commemorated the 75th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944, when thousands of American patriots stormed the beaches of Normandy and charged through the fires of hell to ensure the survival of liberty.

This year also marks the 75th anniversary of the organization that took care of those victorious veterans when they returned and every generation of veterans since. Incredible job. Today we celebrate AMVETS for 75 years of love and loyalty and lifelong service to our military personnel, to our veterans, and to their families. Congratulations. Thank you very much. Thank you.

AMVETS posts across the Nation have become pillars of pride in our community—so true—and shining symbols of the enduring power of the American spirit. Your support of our troops overseas, it welcomes them when they come back home. And you welcome them, and you're there for them in every way: medically, physically, morally. You're with them all the way. And they appreciate it much more than you would even know.

You safeguard our values, pass on our traditions, and teach generation after generation to love our country, honor our heroes, and always respect our great American flag.

We gather today at a truly incredible time for our Nation. We are reawakening American pride, American confidence, and American greatness. We are America first. It's about time, too.

It's about time, wouldn't you say? We hear, "America first." You didn't used to hear that. You didn't use to hear that too much, right? You didn't used to hear it at all, come to think of it. You hear it a lot now. Hope you don't get sick of it. I don't think you will. [Laughter] Not this group. Not too many people in our country would feel that way.

We're respected again as a nation. We're respected again. We're restoring the fundamental principles that government—and its first obligation is the highest loyalty is to our citizens. It's the "loyal to your citizens" that really is that first obligation.

No longer will we sacrifice America's interest to any foreign power. In all things, we are putting our country first. We are saying, let's say, "Make America Great Again." But we're almost there, where we say, "Make America Great Again." We may have to switch it. You know what we're going to switch it to? Right?

Audience member. Keep America great!

The President. That's right. That's right. I won't say it here because this is not a campaign speech. [Laughter] This is not a campaign speech, so I will not say "Keep America Great," but we're going to keep America great. We're going to keep America great.

That's a lot of press back there. Look at all of them. Wow. That's a lot of cameras going. Look at all those red lights on there. [Laughter] The red lights means, "You're on." [Laughter] When the lights are off, you can get a little sleepy back here and take it easy. [Laughter]

Nowhere is this patriotic allegiance more essential than fulfilling our duty to the American warrior and to the American veteran. We're upholding our Nation's solemn pledge to protect those who protect us, and they've protected us brilliantly.

With America's core interests guiding us as we do, we are making unprecedented strides. Our incredible American warriors have pulverized the bloodthirsty killers of ISIS. We defeated 100 percent of the caliphate in Syria. We're holding thousands of ISIS fighters right now—prisoners. And we're going to give them to—from where they came. The Europe—certain countries in Europe, they got to take them back because we don't want to hold them. Got to give them back. We're fighting for other people, and we got to give them back. They've got to take them. They'd rather have us hold them and let us have them for 50 years. We don't want them. We don't want them. They should take them. Do we agree? They should take them.

They say to us, "Why don't you hold them in Guantanamo Bay for 50 years, and you just hold them and spend billions and billions of dollars holding them?" And I'm saying, "No, you got to take them." We fought. We have them captured. They're all captured, thousands—ISIS. But now Europe has to take them, and different countries, where they came from, have to take them.

Do we agree with that? Yes? I was just curious as to what you thought. We withdrew from the horrible Iran nuclear deal. Horrible deal. We brought home the remains of our fallen North Korean war heroes. We brought them home—so many of them, and many more are coming—so they can rest alongside their brothers and sisters in American soil. We believe in our sacred responsibility to ensure no one is left behind, right?

We're rebuilding the awesome might of the United States military with these big budgets that I just described. And think of it——

Audience member. Thank you!

The President. Thank you. Thank you very much. I appreciate it. Thank you very much.

And we're very proud of it. We're very proud of it. And those in the military are very proud too. Beautiful new—the best equipment in the world. We make the best planes. We make the best missiles. We make the best ships. We make the best everything. And it also, in this case, secondarily, it also happens to be made in the U.S.A., every inch of it. And it's called jobs, jobs, jobs. That's secondary, but it's important.

And the Army will very soon have 300 powerful, new M1 Abrams tanks. The Navy is deploying the most advanced class of aircraft carriers in history. With hundreds of brand new F-35s and F-18s, American airmen will continue to own the skies wherever we fly. We have the greatest Air Force in the world.

And we're preparing to dominate the newest warfighting domain by establishing a sixth branch of the Armed Forces. It's called the Space Force. We need that. The Space Force. And that's moving along through approval, and it's become very, very popular. People see it now more than they did 2½ years ago. They see it now, and they know how important it is for defense and offense and for everything.

We've delivered the largest pay raise in years for every soldier, sailor, airman, coastguardsman, and marine in the United States military. One of the largest increases.

Our Active Duty personnel are the best equipped, best trained, most technologically advanced fighting force in the history of the world. The best equipment in the world, best training in the world.

America is a peace-loving nation. We seek friendship, we seek harmony, not conflict and division. But if we are threatened, we will never hesitate to defend our people as they should be defended.

And if our enemies should dare to fight us, they will be crushed with overwhelming American might. No adversary stands a chance against the awesome power of the red, white, and blue. There is no military even close to ours. You know, you read all sorts of things. "Well, maybe this country, maybe that"—it's only propaganda put out by different areas and different countries. There is nothing close. And they all know it, and they tell me that. They tell me that: There is nobody close. And we have to keep it that way. And we don't want to have to use it. We don't want to have to use it. But we have to have it just in case, right?

The members of our Armed Forces—and you understand that very well—the members of our Armed Forces have always lived by the word of Douglas MacArthur: "In war, there is no substitute for victory." We have an Armed Forces that's unparalleled. And to achieve victory, there is no substitute for the unmatched character and courage of those who proudly wear the Nation's uniform.

And we even have different uniforms. Did you see some of the different designs of the uniforms? We're going back to a style and a look that nobody thought we'd go back to because of expense, and now we have brand new—the most beautiful uniforms you've ever seen. But much more importantly are the people that wear that uniform, what's inside that uniform. That's much more important. Much more important. That's the best in the world.

Every warrior who serves has a poured out—and they have poured out their hearts and souls for America. We believe their Government must show them the same devotion in return. And we've been doing that—at least, in the last 2½ years, we have.

Can you believe it's almost 3 years now? Because I've been saying "2½ years" now for a number of months. [Laughter] And we're getting close to 3. I'll have to be changing it to 3 very soon.

After years of neglect, we're fixing the heartbreaking failures from the last administration at the Department of Veterans Affairs. America must never abandon our heroes in their hour of need. We'll never do that. For that reason, I proudly signed into law the groundbreaking VA Accountability Act. [Applause] Thank you. Big deal.

And that was another one. They wouldn't do it—40 years, 50 years. They wouldn't do it. You couldn't get it done. And I won't blame unions, and I won't blame civil service. I won't blame any of it. But, man, was there power against it. It was tough, and I got it done. Now somebody mistreats you or mistreats people in the VA and we know what happens, right? It's called, "You're fired." Stand up, please. Stand up. There is the man that implements it. "You're fired. Get out of here. Get out of here."

You couldn't fire anyone for virtually any reason. They could do anything. So we have the Accountability Act. And we've removed more than 7,600 bad employees who failed to give our vets the care they so richly deserve—7,600.

Think of that. They were treating some of them—no, most of them are fantastic, but some of them were treating our people, our great heroes so badly. Sadistic, terrible people. They were terrible people, and they're gone. They're fired. They would never have been fired—7,600. I didn't know you were that vicious to get rid of that many, huh? [Laughter] And everyone deserves to be out, right? Good. That was a big deal. That was a hard one to get.

And, as I said—and something that I guess I'm most proud of because—I don't know, Accountability was very important. Some people think it was as important—maybe not. But most significantly, the VA reforms—we did the Veterans Choice. And that's—I don't know which was more difficult. They were pretty much equal. But since I took office, nearly 3 million veterans have been able to choose a private doctor in their own community.

And have you ever seen—and this is a great tribute to the people at the VA—the people and the leadership of the VA. I don't hear these horror stories. You know, I used to see—as growing up, I'd see, "VA, VA, VA." I don't want to, you know—well, let me find some wood. Wait. [Laughter]

[At this point, the President knocked on a wooden desk.]

[Laughter] I'm not hearing bad stories. I'm hearing all good stories. But the fake news will go out, and they'll find somebody in the system. [Laughter] They'll find somebody. They'll find somebody in this giant medical system—the largest system in the world, by far. They're going to find somebody that wasn't treated perfectly. And he'll be on the top of the news tonight. "We have breaking news." [Laughter]

We've also slashed wait times at the VA by more than 33 percent. That's a great thing. And the care is better. More importantly, the care is even better. A recent study published in the Journal of American Medical Association found that wait times are now shorter for primary care at the VA than at private sector doctors and hospitals. How about that? Good job. Say hello to our friend. Tell him he's doing a good job. He's done some job. What a job all of you have done.

To improve the efficiency at the VA, I signed the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act. You know what that is. So far this fiscal year, the VA has processed nearly 1.2 million claims for compensation and increased the number of appeals decisions by 70 percent compared to 2 years ago, when I really started doing this. That's a big number.

We are modernizing your medical records to begin a seamless transition from the Department of Defense into the VA, something that they just said they couldn't do. You know that, right? They said: "We can't do it. It's just too complicated." We did it.

The VA has also cut opioid prescriptions by 30 percent over the last 2½ years, and we're committed to defeating the opioid epidemic in America. And I have instructed all of our people that give so many grants to lots of geniuses all over the country, I said: "Find a painkiller that's nonaddictive. Get a painkiller that, when you break your arm and you go to the hospital, you don't come out of the hospital addicted to opioids. Get a painkiller that's nonaddictive." And we're closer than you think, right? We're closer than you think.

Our veterans are seeing dramatic improvements in the quality of care across the board. Patients' trusts have increased—I mean, you look at the trust that the patients give—increased at 92 percent of VA medical centers. Ninety-two percent increase at the medical centers. And we will not rest until we reach 100 percent. And we'll get there too. We'll get there. Probably there already. Probably we're there already.

No issue facing our veterans is more urgent than ending the national crisis of veterans suicide. My administration is determined to do everything in our power to save the lives of our heroes. And if you think about what's going on, we have a new—I guess you'd call it a drug—that came out. Johnson & Johnson. And I know you're dealing very strongly with them.

I think they should make a contribution to the United States of America. But they have something that, whatever it may do, it really takes that horrible anxiety—whatever causes somebody to be so desperate to commit to suicide. You take it; it's an inhaler. And you take it, and its results are incredible.

And I don't know long term, but it really has an incredible effect on a lot of people. And I've instructed the top officials to go out and get as much of it as you can from Johnson & Johnson. And I think they should make—they've done so well in this country, and they've made so much money, I think they should give it to us for free. Give it a shot. Give it a shot.

No, but it's incredible. Actually it's—it does something—something pretty amazing. It's new. And it's had a tremendous—and it's been approved. I guess it's been fully approved. Right? It's gone through the process. And it's gone through a long process and it's been fully approved. We think that's going to have a great impact.

We've secured a record $8.6 billion for mental health services. And we opened—that's a record. We opened the White House VA Hotline to help ensure no claim ever again falls through the cracks. I mean, a lot of claims were having a lot of problems, going on for years. We work it out. The VA is now providing same-day emergency mental health care and mental health screenings to every patient that walks through the door. It's incredible the difference between now and 3 years ago.

To end the tragedy of veteran suicide, it will require government and society at all levels working together. We have to work together with a lot of different groups, a lot of people. And a lot of progress is being made, but going to be made. Things are happening. We must strive to build communities that truly serve, support, and protect our veterans from the very first moment they return to civilian life. It's an incredible adjustment. That's exactly what we aim to achieve with the PREVENTS Initiative. You know what the PREVENTS Initiative is—a task force created earlier this year to unify the efforts of government, business, and nonprofit groups.

We want to build on proven strategies, like the AMVETS HEAL—you know what AMVETS HEAL—you know what it is; you told me about it—Program. An amazing partnership with the VA that has served over 600 families in crisis in just the last year, without a single life lost to suicide. Not one.

To every veteran who is facing this struggle, I want you to know that you are not alone. We are with you. You are not forgotten, not at all forgotten. We're with you all the way. And you are not beaten. You will overcome, you will prevail, you will triumph, and you will thrive. You will thrive. A lot of progress has been made. So many different things we're making progress in. Millions of Americans are right by your side, and we are with you every single step of the way.

One of those Americas is—Americans is someone that you know very well: Jim Pidgeon, a Navy veteran and former national commander of AMVETS. Jim? Where's Jim? Come on up here, Jim. Come on up here, Jim.

For the past 1,257 consecutive days, Jim has challenged Americans to join him in doing 22 pushups—don't challenge me—[laughter]—don't make me do that—representing the number of veterans whose lives—think of that, 22—representing—that's the number of suicides a day. Can you believe it? I heard that number and I said, "It can't be possible." You would think a year, a month. A day. Nobody can believe it. Nobody believes that, Jim.

Thousands of patriots have joined him in raising awareness, and together they are summoning the national will to act. And I want to thank, Jim. Jim, say a few words, please. Great job.

Former AMVETS National Commander James D. Pidgeon. Thank you, Mr. President. It's an honor to be here. I would not be able to do this without the support, the love, and the prayers of my beautiful wife Paulette.

The President. Good. Thank you.

Mr. Pidgeon. Thank you.

The President. He's got strong arms. [Laughter] I just tapped them. It's like a piece of steel. [Laughter] Thank you, Jim.

No one deserves the blessings of freedom more than the heroes who risk their lives to defend it. For this reason, my administration has worked aggressively to boost veterans employment, and we're setting records. Since my election, we have reduced the number of unemployed veterans by 37 percent. That's pretty good.

Veterans unemployment has reached the lowest level ever recorded. You ever hear that? That's big. Same thing with African American unemployment. Same thing with Asian unemployment. Same thing with Hispanic unemployment. Same thing with many other groups. It's been amazing.

To every employer in America, we say: If you are looking for a worker of unrivaled skill, integrity, and devotion, all you have to do is hire a veteran. That's what's happening, and they're doing it. They're doing it. I have a friend who's been doing it lately, and he said, "Why didn't I do this 25 years ago?" I said, "That's your problem." [Laughter] He was very happy. Every servicemember has the right to return to civilian life with dignity and security, and that's what's happening. Driven by this core principle, we have helped 30,000 veterans find permanent housing over the last 2 years—30,000.

We have also expanded the GI bill so that veterans can use their benefits to get an education at any point in their lifetime, a crucial reform to expand opportunity to veterans in every stage of their career. That's a big thing.

And today I am proud to announce that I am taking executive action to ensure that our wounded warriors are not saddled with mountains of student debt. In a few moments, I will sign a memorandum directing the Department of Education to eliminate every penny of Federal student loan debt owed by American veterans who are completely and permanently disabled. [Applause] Incredible.

Nobody can complain about that, right? Nobody can complain about that. The debt of these disabled veterans will be entirely erased. It'll be gone. And you'll sleep well tonight.

Altogether, this action will wipe out an average of $30,000 in debt owed by more than 25,000 eligible veterans who have made immense sacrifices—the ultimate sacrifice, in many—in many ways, for our Nation. They have made a sacrifice that's so great, and they're such incredible people. And they never complain. They never complain. That's hundreds of millions of dollars in student debt held by our severely wounded warriors. It's gone forever.

I want to thank Secretary DeVos for her leadership and making veteran debt forgiveness a top priority for the Department of Education. Betsy, thank you very much. Stand up, Betsy. Stand up.

And there will be no Federal income tax on the forgiven debts. So that's really big stuff. It's all passed. It's all passed. All we have to do is sign it, which we're going to do right at that beautiful desk, okay? All we have to do.

Today I'm also calling upon all 50 States to immediately waive all applicable State taxes as well. The State taxes, hopefully, will be going away very quickly. Most of the States have already agreed to do that.

Joining us today is one of the many American heroes who will benefit from this action, Katherine Castle. Amazingly, Katherine served in three different branches of the Armed Forces: the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. Wow. You're going to have to tell me which is the best, please. [Laughter] I want to know which is the best.

Which is the best? Don't—don't say it. Don't say it. I might—she may say it and I'll be in big trouble. Please say a few words, Katherine. Thank you very much. Thank you.

Sergeant Katherine Castle (Ret.). Thank you, everybody. This is an amazing relief on my family, as well as, I know, many thousands of veterans as well. Thank you.

The President. Thank you very much, Katherine.

After two tours in Iraq, Katherine developed multiple serious health conditions—very, very serious—related to her service, including significant lung problems.

Despite these obstacles, Karen [Katherine; White House correction.] is now pursuing a degree at the University of Nevada. Katherine, we are really profoundly grateful for your service and for your immense sacrifice. You've been incredible. And thank you. And it's great to have gotten to know you. And everybody in this room is very proud of you. Thank you very much. Thank you, Katherine.

Veterans like Katherine who have made such enormous sacrifices for our country should not be asked to pay any more. Rather, it is America who owes our heroes a supreme debt of gratitude. So that's the way we feel.

Across oceans, jungles, mountains, and deserts, in battlefields and enemy camps across the globe, our veterans fought and bled to vanquish our enemies and preserve America's birthright of freedom.

Our country, our liberty, our families, our homes, our safety, our very lives—everything that matters and everyone who we hold dear—are sacred, and just sacred to us, and secured by the grace of God and the immortal courage of those who serve.

The story of the American veteran—and I call them the "American warrior," because that's what they are; they're great warriors—is the story of the American nation. You have written our history, shaped our identity, forged our destiny, marched us to glory, and always planted the righteous flag of American victory.

You have filled our enemies with dread, you have filled our friends with hope, and you have filled our American heart with fierce patriotic pride.

Because of you, America is safe. Because of you, America is strong. Because of you, America is free. And because of you, America will forever remain the bravest, mightiest, and greatest nation on the face of the Earth. Thank you. Thank you. Because of you—you. Because of you.

I would now like to ask AMVETS leaders to come forward; Secretary DeVos, please come forward; Deputy Secretary Byrne, Governor Bevin, Sergeant Katherine Castle, and Sergeant Nick Stefanovic—to join me on stage as I sign the Presidential memorandum facilitating the cancellation of student loan debt for 25,000 of our most severely disabled veterans.

And with today's order, we express the everlasting love and loyalty of a truly grateful nation. God bless our veterans, and God bless America. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Should I do it?

Audience. Yes!

[The President signed a memorandum on discharging the Federal student loan debt of totally and permanently disabled veterans.]

Thank you very much, everybody.

NOTE: The President spoke at 2:36 p.m. at the Galt House Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert L. Wilkie, Jr.; and Sgt. Nick Stefanovic, USMC (Ret.). He also referred to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist organization.

Donald J. Trump, Remarks at the AMVETS (American Veterans) 75th National Convention in Louisville, Kentucky Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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