Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks at the Signing Ceremony for the Veterans' Rehabilitation and Education Amendments of 1980

October 17, 1980

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I've already had a chance to meet with some of this group earlier, before I came to this ceremony. But I want to say, first of all, that this is indeed a very pleasant task that I have this afternoon, to sign into law another of a series of legislative acts that Max Cleland and the Congress and I have been able, with the help of many assembled here this afternoon, to put into practice for the well-being of the veterans of our country.

I'll call on Bill Hefner in a few minutes, but I do want to thank Chairman Alan Cranston and also Chairman Roberts for their work in passing the Veterans' Rehabilitation and Education Amendments of 1980. It provides for needed revitalization of the VA vocational rehabilitation program and is the first major reform of this program since it first began in 1943.

Along with the veterans' disability compensation and the housing benefits amendment that I signed last week, this is a major step in improving services for American veterans.

In October 1978, I sent to Congress a message on Vietnam-era veterans, which included recommendations to modernize this program, to train and to place the disabled veterans in meaningful jobs. I'm pleased that Congress has adopted many of these recommendations. Some of the major features are: an innovative pilot program to help seriously disabled veterans become self-sufficient in their daily lives; a 17-percent increase in subsistence allowance for disabled veterans in training; a 10-percent rate increase in educational allowances for veterans and their dependents who are enrolled in programs under the GI bill; and new initiatives to increase the employment of veterans, especially in federally funded programs. This includes permanent authorization of my administration's highly successful Disabled Veterans Outreach program, that was started under the initiative of Max Cleland, introduced as part of the economic stimulus program of 1977.

Despite these major improvements which I will sign into law in a few minutes, I am disappointed that Congress did not extend the delimiting date on the GI bill. This recommendation of mine would permit needy and emotionally disadvantaged veterans to pursue on-the-job training, vocational and high school courses.

As President, I have assumed personal responsibility to provide for America's veterans. The recent television dramatization of a book which I'm sure many of you have read, "A Rumor of War," was a reminder of the human toll paid by those who serve us in war and, particularly, in an unpopular war, with many American people, like Vietnam. It also implies to us, very clearly, that easing their pain is still our responsibility. It reminds us that the struggle to keep the peace in the world demands the same kind of dedication that our veterans showed in battle.

I remember the tribute that Phil Caputo wrote to his friend in "A Rumor of War." I've used this quote before. It's meant a lot to me. "Your courage," he wrote, "was an example to us, and whatever the rights and wrongs of war, nothing can diminish the rightness of what you tried to do. As I write this 11 years after your death, the country for which you died wishes to forget the war in which you died. It wishes to forget, and it has forgotten, but there are a few of us who do remember because of the small things that made us love you—your gestures, your words you spoke, the way you looked. We loved you for what you were and what you stood for."

For the past 4 years, we've worked hard to ensure that benefits and services and medical care for the veterans remain unsurpassed. We've continued to support an independent VA hospital system and have carried out a major new construction effort. We were the first administration in history to recommend annual adjustments in disability compensation. We've developed and implemented the nationwide counseling program for Vietnam veterans. We've created three major job programs and reached out to underserved veterans. And last year, I signed a proclamation establishing Vietnam Veterans Week as a special recognition of the sacrifice they made. And I've been gratified that the American public now, after too long an interval of time, is honoring those special sacrifices of young Americans who served in Vietnam.

We can be proud of this progress. I want especially to thank Max Cleland for his strong and articulate leadership of the Veterans Administration. One of the gratifying experiences of my life, as President, has been to work with Max Cleland. He has a special insight into veterans' contributions, he's trusted by veterans of all wars, and he has a special relationship with those veterans of the Vietnam war, who too long were not appreciated adequately in America.

One of the goals that Max and I shared from the very first time I talked to him about being Veterans Administrator was to make sure that the American public, as well as the Congress, finally recognized what Vietnam veterans have suffered and how we can compensate them .and give them a fruitful life—in Veterans Administrations, in job programs, and in the American public.

I also want to thank Congress for its cooperation in the last 4 years. What Max Cleland and I have requested, the Congress has been forthcoming in giving. And when the Congress has made initiatives, we've worked very closely with them.

I now take great pleasure in signing into law the Veterans' Rehabilitation and Education Amendments of 1980, following which I would like for Bill Hefner, Congressman from North Carolina, a leader in the Congress in veterans' programs, and then Max Cleland to make a few words from their two perspectives-one representing the Congress, the other one representing the Veterans Administration.

[At this point, the President signed the bill into law. He then resumed speaking.]

We've got a new law. [Laughter]

REPRESENTATIVE HEFNER. Thank you, Mr. President. This is a momentous occasion for me and, I would like to thank all the members of our subcommittee and the full committee of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, also for Max Cleland and all the different organizations that helped us so much. When it came to the testimony we had, we were able to arrive at what I think is a real milestone for the benefit of veterans. And it's just a start, because the Veterans' Affairs Committee will be very active in the coming years to do even more for our veterans to see that they are not second-class citizens and they get the things that they so rightly deserve.

And I want to thank you, sir, for signing this. And this is a real milestone for me, and we certainly appreciate it.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Bill. It's been a good partnership.



MR. CLELAND. Thank you. Mr. President, Congressman Hefner, ladies and gentlemen:

I'd like to thank especially the members of the veterans' service organizations, without which this effort would have been impossible. I'd certainly like to thank the key Members of Congress who had a hand in this.

Mr. President, I think it's fair to say that without your support that this legislation on the vocational rehabilitation for disabled veterans and the expansion of benefits for Vietnam veterans would not have been possible. I want to thank you for your support, Mr. President, of this particular legislation, but I want to thank you especially for not forgetting.

THE PRESIDENT. Thank you, Max. God bless you.

And finally, let me say that I'm deeply grateful not only to those who've been recognized and who've had a chance to say a few words, but for the veterans all over the Nation and all the Members of the Congress, Bill, who worked in harmony on this good legislation. The effort, as I said, commenced 2 years ago, to bring forth this first modification of the basic legislative act which passed to initiate the programs. And I know that all of the veterans' organizations represented here are very gratified also for the leadership that has been shown by Max Cleland, by the Members of Congress, and I'm deeply grateful to all of you.

We want the veterans to have a better life in the future even than they've had before and want to make sure that the Nation remembers what our veterans contribute not only in time of war when they suffer most, but in time of peace when they prevent future disabled veterans from having to live a life of rehabilitation, when they can live a life of constructive contribution to those who have already served.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1:55 p.m. at the signing ceremony in the Cabinet Room at the White House.

As enacted, H.R. 5288 is Public Law 96466, approved October 17.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks at the Signing Ceremony for the Veterans' Rehabilitation and Education Amendments of 1980 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251268

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