5:30 P.M. PDT
THE PRESIDENT: Well, to Wayne and Quinn and all of you who are here, thank you. I have fond memories of being here. It was, I think, just as spectacular a day, it was just as beautiful. And I think Alice Waters was cooking. And part of the reason I remember that is because I’ve got a staff guy, Marvin Nicholson -- some of you know Marvin -- Marvin doesn’t believe in eating vegetables. (Laughter.) So he’s still traumatized by -- (laughter) -- I’m just saying, I was mentioning the last time we were here and Alice Waters was cooking and -- yes. (Laughter.) Marvin’s general palate runs between hotdogs and hamburgers, so -- and pizza. (Laughter.) That’s true. So
-- chicken tenders. (Laughter.)
Anyway, we had a wonderful time then, and so many of you have been friends and supporters ever since. And so I’m grateful to all of you.
Because this is a more intimate setting, I’m not going to give a long speech. What this gives me an opportunity to do is really have a conversation with you, and I want to save as much time as possible for questions and answers and comments that all of you may have. But let me just summarize a little bit about what I’m seeing out there.
First of all, obviously, yesterday I spent time in Aurora, Colorado, after the terrible tragedy that they went through. And I spent time with the families, and the medical staff, the first responders. And sometimes when bad things happen, horrible things happen, I think it’s easy for us to slip into despair. And yet if you had spent some time, like I did, with those people, who had faced down just unimaginable pain with strength and grace, it would make you extraordinarily optimistic about America.
And one of the messages that I tried to deliver -- because if you're just paying attention to debates in Washington, sometimes you feel as if the country is constantly arguing and everybody is down and out -- when you travel the country and you meet people, Americans are strong and they are resilient and they are optimistic, and they are confident about their future and their kids' futures.
They recognize that there's dysfunction in Washington and they'd like to see it changed. And they recognize that the economy is not working for everybody the way it should and they'd like to see that changed. But they understand as well as anybody that we are incredibly blessed with a country that is the closest thing to, I think, a form of government that allows all of us to achieve and live out our dreams. And they are thankful for it every day and all they want to see is that their leadership reflect the same decency and common sense that they try to apply every single day in their lives.
Now, obviously we've gone through, since I last saw you, the worst financial crisis and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The good news is that we’ve made progress since that time -- added 4.5 million new jobs, half a million new manufacturing jobs. Even the weakest sectors of the economy, like housing, are starting to pick up again. And so we are in a much better position now, in part because of the work that my administration has done -- saving the auto industry and stabilizing the financial system -- we’re in a much stronger position now than we were the day I was sworn in.
The bad news is we’ve still got some headwinds. There are still millions of people who are out of work, millions of people whose homes are underwater. And people are still wondering, how do we get back to an economy where the middle class is growing and the economic growth translates into broader opportunity for everyone; where America is competitive in a global economy and hard work and responsibility pay off.
And this election, in some ways, is going to be more important than 2008, because I think right now we’ve got as clear a choice as we’ve seen in our lifetimes. You’ve got one side that believes that the way we’re going to grow the economy and broaden opportunity is through additional tax cuts, $5 trillion worth, mostly going to folks who don’t need those tax cuts and really aren’t asking for them, and then if you combine that with stripping away regulations on Wall Street or on polluters or on insurance companies, that somehow that will unleash the free market and everybody will be better off. That’s the theory.
It’s a theory we tested for almost a decade. And it didn’t work. We saw sluggish job growth. We saw greater inequality. We saw median incomes and wages go down. And it culminated in the worst crisis of our lifetimes.
I've got a different theory. It's one that says, yes, we've got to reduce our deficits and bring down our debt, and we've got to do it in a balanced way by making sure that those of us who've been blessed by this country are giving back a little bit more and going back to the Clinton tax rates; that we're cutting out spending that we don't need, but we're also still investing in basic research and science; that we're investing in infrastructure; that we're investing in the education of every kid and not just some; that we have smart regulations in place that are going to deal with issues like climate change and that are going to make sure that our financial system operates in a transparent and effective way.
And so this debate plays itself out across the board on almost every issue. And you are not in a battleground state here in California -- (laughter) -- and as a consequence, you are spared from the unprecedented amount of negative -- primarily negative advertising that's on TV right now. But over the next three months, this debate is going to be joined, and we as a country are going to have to make a decision about not only how do we grow our economy but how do we make sure that this continues to be a place where if you work hard you can make it, and where everybody is doing their fair share and everybody has a fair shot and everybody is playing by the same set of rules.
I'm confident that the American people will make the right choice. And it's interesting, when you actually present, stripped from the politics, and you just present in a fair way these two alternative visions, a strong majority agrees with us. But what's going to make this a close race is the fact that the economy is still recovering, the challenges we've seen in Europe are blowing back onto our shores, and most people analyze the economy not through some macroeconomic analysis -- they evaluate it in terms of do I have a job, do my kids have a job, how is my home value doing? And in that environment, people are still going through a tough time.
So this is going to be a close race and it's going to be a challenging race. But I am as invigorated and as determined as I've ever been to win it, because I believe that there's no challenge that we're facing right now that is not solvable. The problem is we've got a stalemate in Washington, and I'm confident that if we break that stalemate, then the 21st century is going to be the American Century just like the 20th.
So thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)
5:40 P.M. PDT
VFW Convention Hall
12:35 P.M. PDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Please, please, everybody have a seat.
Commander DeNoyer, thank you for your introduction, and your service in Vietnam and on behalf of America's veterans. I want to thank your executive director, Bob Wallace; your next commander, who I look forward to working with, John Hamilton. And to Gwen Rankin, Leanne Lemley, and the entire Ladies Auxiliary, thank you for your patriotic service to America. (Applause.)
I stand before you as our hearts still ache over the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado. Yesterday I was in Aurora, with families whose loss is hard to imagine -- with the wounded, who are fighting to recover; with a community and a military base in the midst of their grief. And they told me of the loved ones they lost. And here today, it's fitting to recall those who wore our nation's uniform:
Staff Sergeant Jesse Childress -- an Air Force reservist, 29 years old, a cyber specialist who loved sports, the kind of guy, said a friend, who'd help anybody.
Petty Officer Third Class John Larimer -- 27 years old, who, like his father and grandfather before him, joined the Navy, and who is remembered as an outstanding shipmate.
Rebecca Wingo -- 32 years old, a veteran of the Air Force, fluent in Chinese, who served as a translator; a mother, whose life will be an inspiration to her two little girls.
And Jonathan Blunk -- from Reno, just 26 years old, but a veteran of three Navy tours, whose family and friends will always know that in that theater he gave his own life to save another.
These young patriots were willing to serve in faraway lands, yet they were taken from us here at home. And yesterday I conveyed to their families a message on behalf of all Americans: We honor your loved ones. We salute their service. And as you summon the strength to carry on and keep bright their legacy, we stand with you as one united American family. (Applause.)
Veterans of Foreign Wars, in you I see the same shining values, the virtues that make America great. When our harbor was bombed and fascism was on the march, when the fighting raged in Korea and Vietnam, when our country was attacked on that clear September morning, when our forces were sent to Iraq -- you answered your country’s call. Because you know what Americans must always remember -- our nation only endures because there are patriots who protect it.
In the crucible of battle, you were tested in ways the rest of us will never know. You carry in your hearts the memory of the comrades you lost. For you understand that we must honor our fallen heroes not just on Memorial Day, but all days. And when an American goes missing, or is taken prisoner, we must do everything in our power to bring them home. (Applause.)
Even after you took off the uniform, you never stopped serving. You took care of each other -- fighting for the benefits and care you had earned. And you’ve taken care of the generations that followed, including our newest veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. On behalf of all our men and women in uniform, and on behalf of the American people, I want to thank you, VFW. Thank you for your outstanding work. (Applause.)
Of course, some among you -- our Vietnam veterans -- didn’t always receive that thanks, at least not on time. This past Memorial Day, I joined some of you at The Wall to begin the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. And it was another chance to say what should have been said all along: You did your duty, and you made us proud. And as this 50th anniversary continues, I’d ask all our Vietnam vets to stand, or raise your hand, as we say: Thank you and welcome home. (Applause.)
Every generation among you served to keep us strong and free. And it falls to us, those that follow, to preserve what you won. Four years ago, I stood before you at a time of great challenge for our nation. We were engaged in two wars. Al Qaeda was entrenched in their safe havens in Pakistan. Many of our alliances were frayed. Our standing in the world had suffered. We were in the worst recession of our lifetimes. Around the world, some questioned whether the United States still had the capacity to lead.
So, four years ago, I made you a promise. I pledged to take the fight to our enemies, and renew our leadership in the world. As President, that’s what I’ve done. (Applause.) And as you reflect on recent years, as we look ahead to the challenges we face as a nation and the leadership that’s required, you don’t just have my words, you have my deeds. You have my track record. You have the promises I’ve made and the promises that I’ve kept.
I pledged to end the war in Iraq honorably, and that’s what we’ve done. (Applause.) After I took office, we removed nearly 150,000 U.S. troops from Iraq. And some said that bringing our troops home last year was a mistake. They would have kept tens of thousands of our forces in Iraq -- indefinitely, without a clear mission. Well, when you’re Commander-in-Chief, you owe the troops a plan, you owe the country a plan -- and that includes recognizing not just when to begin wars, but also how to end them.
So we brought our troops home responsibly. They left with their heads held high, knowing they gave Iraqis a chance to forge their own future. And today, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq, and we are proud of all the Americans who served there. (Applause.)
I pledged to make it a priority to take out the terrorists who had attacked us on 9/11. And as a candidate, I said that if we had Osama bin Laden in our sights, we would act to keep America safe -- even if it meant going into Pakistan. Some of you remember, at the time, that comment drew quite a bit of criticism. But since I took office, we’ve worked with our allies and our partners to take out more top al Qaeda leaders than any time since 9/11. And thanks to the courage and the skill of our forces, Osama bin Laden will never threaten America again, and al Qaeda is on the road to defeat. (Applause.)
I pledged to finish the job in Afghanistan. After years of drift, we had to break the momentum of the Taliban, and build up the capacity and the capability of Afghans. And so, working with our commanders, we came up with a new strategy, and we ordered additional forces to get the job done. This is still a tough fight. But thanks to the incredible services and sacrifices of our troops, we pushed the Taliban back; we’re training Afghan forces; we’ve begun the transition to Afghan lead.
Again, there are those who argued against a timeline for ending this war -- or against talking about it publicly. But you know what, that’s not a plan for America’s security either. After 10 years of war, and given the progress we’ve made, I felt it was important that the American people -- and our men and women in uniform -- know our plan to end this war responsibly. (Applause.) And so by the end of this summer, more than 30,000 of our troops will have come home. Next year, Afghans will take the lead for their own security. In 2014, the transition will be complete. And even as our troops come home, we’ll have a strong partnership with the Afghan people, and we will stay vigilant so Afghanistan is never again a source for attacks against America. (Applause.)
We’re not just ending these wars; we’re doing it in a way that achieves our objectives. Moreover, it’s allowed us to broaden our vision and begin a new era of American leadership. We’re leading from Europe to the Asia Pacific, with alliances that have never been stronger. We’re leading the fight against nuclear dangers. We’ve applied the strongest sanctions ever on Iran and North Korea -- nations that cannot be allowed to threaten the world with nuclear weapons. (Applause.) We’re leading on behalf of freedom -- standing with people in the Middle East and North Africa as they demand their rights; protecting the Libyan people as they rid the world of Muammar Qaddafi.
Today, we’re also working for a transition so the Syrian people can have a better future, free of the Assad regime. And given the regime’s stockpiles of chemical weapons, we will continue to make it clear to Assad and those around him that the world is watching, and that they will be held accountable by the international community and the United States, should they make the tragic mistake of using those weapons. (Applause.) And we will continue to work with our friends and our allies and the Syrian opposition on behalf of the day when the Syrian people have a government that respects their basic rights to live in peace and freedom and dignity.
Because we’re leading around the world, people have a new attitude toward America. There’s more confidence in our leadership. We see it everywhere we go. We saw it as grateful Libyans waved American flags. We see it across the globe -- when people are asked, which country do you admire the most, one nation comes out on top -- the United States of America. (Applause.)
So this is the progress that we’ve made. Thanks to the extraordinary service of our men and women in uniform, we’re winding down a decade of war; we’re destroying the terrorist network that attacked us; we’re strengthening the alliances that extend our values. And today, every American can be proud that the United States is safer and stronger and more respected in the world.
And all this allows us to fulfill another promise that I made to you four years ago -- strengthening our military. After 10 years of operations, our soldiers will now have fewer and shorter deployments, which means more time on the home front to keep their families strong; more time to heal from the wounds of war; more time to improve readiness and prepare for future threats.
As President, I’ve continued to make historic investments to keep our armed forces strong. And guided by our new defense strategy, we will maintain our military superiority. It will be second to none as long as I am President and well into the future. We’ve got the best-trained, best-led, best-equipped military in history. And as Commander-in-Chief I am going to keep it that way. (Applause.)
And by the way, given all the rhetoric lately -- it is political season -- let’s also set the record straight on the budget. Those big, across-the-board cuts, including defense, that Congress said would occur next year if they couldn’t reach a deal to reduce the deficit? Let’s understand, first of all, there’s no reason that should happen, because people in Congress ought to be able to come together and agree on a plan, a balanced approach that reduces the deficit and keeps our military strong. It should be done. (Applause.)
And there are a number of Republicans in Congress who don’t want you to know that most of them voted for these cuts. Now they’re trying to wriggle out of what they agreed to. Instead of making tough choices to reduce the deficit, they’d rather protect tax cuts for some of the wealthiest Americans, even if it risks big cuts in our military. And I’ve got to tell you, VFW, I disagree. If the choice is between tax cuts that the wealthiest Americans don’t need and funding our troops that they definitely need to keep our country strong, I will stand with our troops every single time. (Applause.)
So let’s stop playing politics with our military. Let’s get serious and reduce our deficit and keep our military strong. Let’s take some of the money that we’re saving because we’re not fighting in Iraq and because we’re winding down in Afghanistan -- use half that money to pay down our deficit; let’s use half of it to do some nation-building here in the United States of America. (Applause.)
Let’s keep taking care of our extraordinary military families. For the first time ever, we’ve made military families and veterans a top priority not just at DOD, not just at the VA, but across the government. As Richard mentioned, this has been a mission for my wife, Michelle, and Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, Dr. Jill Biden. Today, more people across America in every segment of society are Joining Forces to give our military families the respect and the support that they deserve. (Applause.)
And there’s another way we can honor those who serve. It may no longer be a crime for con artists to pass themselves off as heroes, but one thing is certain -- it is contemptible. So this week, we will launch a new website, a living memorial, so the American people can see who’s been awarded our nation’s highest honors. Because no American hero should ever have their valor stolen. (Applause.)
This leads me to another promise I made four years ago -- upholding America’s sacred trust with our veterans. I promised to strengthen the VA, and that promise has been kept. In my first year, we achieved the largest percentage increase in the VA budget in 30 years. And we’re going to keep making historic investments in our veterans. When Richard came to the Oval Office, we talked about what those automatic budget cuts -- sequestration -- could mean for the VA. So my administration has made it clear: Your veteran’s benefits are exempt from sequestration. They are exempt. (Applause.) And because advance appropriations is now the law of the land, veterans' health care is protected from the budget battles in Washington. (Applause.)
I promised you that I’d stand up for veterans' health care. As long as I’m President, I will not allow VA health care to be turned into a voucher system, subject to the whims of the insurance market. Some have argued for this plan. I could not disagree more. You don’t need vouchers, you need the VA health care that you have earned and that you depend on. (Applause.)
So we’ve made dramaticinvestments to help care for our veterans. For our Vietnam veterans, we declared that more illnesses are now presumed connected to your exposure to Agent Orange. As a result of our decision, Vietnam-era vets and your families received nearly $4 billion in disability pay. You needed it; you fought for it. We heard you and we got it done. (Applause.)
We’ve added mobile clinics for our rural veterans; more tailored care for our women veterans; unprecedented support for veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury. All tolled, we’ve made VA health care available to nearly 800,000 veterans who didn’t have it before. (Applause.) And we’re now supporting caregivers and families with the skills and the stipends to help care for the veterans that they love.
Of course, more veterans in the system means more claims. So we’ve hired thousands of claims processors. We’re investing in paperless systems. To their credit, the dedicated folks at the VA are now completing one million claims a year. But there’s been a tidal wave of new claims. And when I hear about veterans waiting months, or years, for your benefits -- it is unacceptable. And we are doing something about it. (Applause.)
We’re taking all those folks who processed your Agent Orange claims -- more than 1,200 experts -- and giving them a new mission: Attack the backlog. We’re prioritizing veterans with the most serious disabilities. And the VA and DOD will work harder towards a seamless transition so new veterans aren’t just piled on to the backlog. And we will not rest -- I will not be satisfied until we get this right. And today, I’m also calling on all those who help our vets complete their claims -- state VAs, physicians and veteran groups like the VFW -- to join us. You know how this can work better, so let’s get it done, together.
We’re also focused on the urgent needs of our veterans with PTSD. We’ve poured tremendous resources into this fight -- thousands of more counselors and more clinicians, more care and more treatment. And we've made it easier for veterans with PTSD to qualify for VA benefits. But after a decade of war, it’s now an epidemic. We’re losing more troops to suicide -- one every single day -- than we are in combat. According to some estimates, about 18 veterans are taking their lives each day -- more every year than all the troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. That's a tragedy. It's heartbreaking. It should not be happening in the United States of America.
So when I hear about servicemembers and veterans who had the courage to seek help but didn’t get it, who died waiting, that's an outrage. And I’ve told Secretary Panetta, Chairman Dempsey and Secretary Shinseki we’ve got to do better. This has to be all hands on deck.
So our message to everyone who’s ever worn the uniform -- if you’re hurting, it’s not a sign of weakness to seek help, it’s a sign of strength. And when you do, we’ll be there and do more to help -- including more counselors and clinicians to help you heal. We need to end this tragedy, VFW. (Applause.) And we're going to work together to make it happen.
So, too with our campaign to end homelessness among our veterans. We’ve now helped to bring tens of thousands of veterans off the streets and into permanent housing. This has to be a core mission, because every veteran who has fought for America ought to have a home in America. (Applause.)
And this brings me to the last promise I want to discuss with you. Four years ago, I said that I’d do everything I could to help our veterans realize the American Dream, to enlist you in building a stronger America. After all, our veterans have the skills that America needs. So today, our economy is growing and creating jobs, but it’s still too hard for too many folks to find work, especially our younger veterans, our veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. And with a million more troops rejoining civilian life in the years ahead -- and looking for work -- we’ve got to step up our game, at every stage of their careers.
So today, I’m announcing a major overhaul of our transition assistance program. We’re going to set up a kind of "reverse boot camp" for our departing servicemembers. Starting this year, they’ll get more personalized assistance as they plan their careers. We’ll provide the training they need to find that job, or pursue that education, or start that business. And just as they’ve maintained their military readiness, we’ll have new standards of "career readiness."
In addition, by making the Post-9/11 GI Bill a priority, we’ve helped more than 800,000 veterans and their families pursue their education. And I’ve issued an executive order to help put a stop to schools that are ripping off our veterans. (Applause.)
I’ve directed the federal government to step up on jobs. Since I took office, we’ve hired more than 200,000 veterans into the federal government. We made it a priority. (Applause.) And we’re keeping track -- every agency, every department: What are you doing for our veterans?
I’ve challenged community health centers to hire thousands of veterans as physicians and nurses. And as we help local communities hire new police officers and firefighters and first responders, we’re giving a preference to veterans.
We’re also fighting to get more vets hired in the private sector. With new tools like our online Veterans Jobs Bank, we’re connecting veterans directly to jobs. We’re helping thousands of veterans get certified for good-paying jobs in manufacturing. We succeeded in passing tax credits for businesses that hire our veterans and our wounded warriors. And this morning, I signed into law the Veteran Skills to Jobs Act -- making it easier for veterans to transfer their outstanding military skills into the licenses and credentials they need to get civilian jobs. (Applause.)
If you are a young man that is in charge of a platoon or millions of dollars of equipment and are taking responsibility, or you’re a medic out in the field who is saving lives every single day -- when you come home, you need to be credentialed and certified quickly so you can get on the job. People should understand how skilled you are. (Applause.) And there shouldn’t be bureaucrats or runarounds. We’ve got to put those folks to work.
Last summer, I also challenged the private sector to hire or train 100,000 veterans or their spouses. Michelle and Jill Biden have been leading the effort, through Joining Forces. And so far, thousands of patriotic businesses have hired or trained more than 90,000 veterans and spouses. And our message to companies is simple: If you want somebody who gets the job done, then hire a vet. (Applause.) Hire a vet. Hire a vet and they will make you proud just like they’ve made America proud.
And we’re fighting for veterans who want to start their own businesses, including more training in entrepreneurship. It’s one of the reasons we’ve cut taxes -- 18 times for small businesses, including veteran-owned businesses. And the effects ripple out, because vets are more likely to hire vets.
So today, we can point to progress. More veterans are finding jobs; the unemployment rate for veterans has come down. Yes, it’s still too high, but it’s coming down. And now we’ve got to sustain that momentum. It’s one of the reasons I’ve proposed to Congress a Veterans Jobs Corps to put our veterans back to work protecting and rebuilding America. And today, I am again calling on Congress: Pass this Veterans Jobs Corps and extend the tax credits for businesses that hire veterans so we can give these American heroes the jobs and opportunities that they deserve. (Applause.)
So, VFW, these are the promises that I made. These are the promises that I’ve kept. Where we still have more to do, we will not rest. That’s my vow to you. I’ve got your back. I’ve got your six. Because we have a solemn obligation to all who serve
-- not just for the years you’re in uniform, but for all the decades that follow, and because even though today’s wars are ending, the hard work of taking care of our newest veterans has only just begun.
Just as you protected America, we’re going to pass our country to the next generation, stronger and safer and more respected in the world. So if anyone tries to tell you that our greatness has passed, that America is in decline, you tell them this: Just like the 20th century, the 21st is going to be another great American Century. For we are Americans, blessed with the greatest form of government ever devised by man, a democracy dedicated to freedom and committed to the ideals that still light the world. We will never apologize for our way of life; we will never waver in its defense.
We are a nation that freed millions and turned adversaries into allies. We are the Americans who defended the peace and turned back aggression. We are Americans who welcome our global responsibilities and our global leadership. The United States has been, and will remain, the one indispensable nation in world affairs.
And you, you are the soldiers, the sailors, the airmen, the Marines and the Coast Guardsmen who have kept us strong. We will honor your legacy. And we will ensure that the military you served, and the America that we love, remains the greatest force for freedom that the world has ever known.
God bless you. God bless all of our veterans. And God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)
END 1:08 P.M. PDT
Michelle and I were deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Sally Ride. As the first American woman to travel into space, Sally was a national hero and a powerful role model. She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars and later fought tirelessly to help them get there by advocating for a greater focus on science and math in our schools. Sally’s life showed us that there are no limits to what we can achieve and I have no doubt that her legacy will endure for years to come. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Sally’s family and friends.
Via Conference Call
1:13 P.M. EDT
MS. AUGUST: Great. Thank you so much, and thank you to everybody for joining the call today. All of you should already have the schedule for Mrs. Obama's trip that we put out this morning.
Joining us on the call today we have, of course, First Lady Michelle Obama. We also have Ben Rhodes, who is the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications. We also have Sam Kass, who is the Senior Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives. We also have key members of our wonderful delegation, Dominique Dawes and Grant Hill, and we have Kevin Dowdell from the USTA who is also going to talk.
So I will turn it over to the First Lady.
MRS. OBAMA: Thanks so much, Hannah, and I want to thank everybody for taking time to be on this call. We're very excited about the trip, we're excited about the call, we're excited about all that we're doing but I just wanted to take a moment before we got started because I just want to say how heartbroken Barack and I are about the tragic shootings that took place in Aurora, Colorado on Friday. I would be remiss to mention the incident.
Barack and I, we have seen people -- and so have people around this country -- we've seen people across this country come together as one American family to mourn the victims of this devastating event and to support their friends and families and loved ones. And I know that we'll continue that support in the difficult time ahead. So I know that we are all -- even as we enter the Olympics, this wonderful occasion I know that we are all holding the people of Aurora in our hearts and our prayers. So, again, I just wanted to take a moment to say that.
But I'm also here today to discuss the upcoming Olympic Games, and I am just thrilled to have everyone on the call. We've got Ben and Sam, but I'm so happy that Dominique and Grant are on the line. They have just been tremendous supporters of fitness and health and exercise; they both serve on the President's Council for Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, and they've just been active and engaged and involved on so many different levels.
And we also have Kevin Dowdell, who has been doing terrific things in tennis, but, more importantly, we went to college together. And this is how life happens, that all of a sudden we wind up on this phone call together. So, Kevin, it's great to have you on board. You guys are doing terrific things. The commitments you've made have been amazing. And he is going to talk about that a little later in the call.
I am beyond proud to be leading the U.S. delegation to the Opening Ceremony of this year's Olympic Games. And during my visit, in addition to cheering for Team USA, I'm going to have the chance to meet with our Olympic athletes and the folks who work in our embassy in London as well. I'll also be hosting a Let's Move event with American and British students, including American military kids. And that is going to be a ball.
Leading our nation's delegation and traveling to London is truly a dream come true. If anybody had asked me when I was 10 or 11 or 20, or actually 40, whether I would be doing this, I would have bet not. Some of my fondest memories -- when I was young and not so young -- involve watching the Olympics on TV and cheering on Team USA.
And as part of this trip and my Let's Move initiative to solve the problem of childhood obesity, I decided that I wanted to turn that Olympic spirit and inspiration into action by using these games as a way to get more kids up and moving. And that's why I challenged the U.S. Olympic Committee and 10 of its governing bodies to commit to helping 1 million kids get active in their communities this year. And we thought that the goal of 1 million kids was an ambitious target, but our partners not only met that goal, they added another 700,000 more to that commitment. So that means that 1.7 million young people are going to be participating in Olympic and Paralympic sports in their communities this year as a result of these commitments.
So this involves sports like soccer, tennis, swimming and gymnastics. They are expanding their beginner programming and planning exciting events in clinics to engage kids for the very first time in many of these sports.
In addition, in conjunction with the start of the 2012 London games, we've declared July the 28th Let's Move Olympic Fun Day. And this is going to be really cool. On that day, kids and families across the country are going to come together to cheer on Team USA and participate in all kinds of athletic activities in their communities through meetup.com.
So as our Olympic athletes begin to compete in London, they will truly be inspiring a generation of young people to get active and to strive for excellence. And they're going to be reminding us all that being an Olympian isn't just about winning the gold or setting a new record. It's really about pushing yourself. It's about believing in yourself and refusing to give up, no matter what obstacles you might face.
So I am very excited about this trip for so many reasons, but I'm excited that it will serve as a powerful opportunity to send another message to the kids in this country and other countries about the importance of staying fit, learning to compete, staying healthy. And this isn't just about sports, it's about being active.
So we are very excited. And I wish all of the members of Team USA the best of luck in these games. And I truly look forward to cheering them on in London this week.
So with that, I’m going to turn it over to Ben, who’s going to talk a bit about more exciting stuff. And I look forward to being a part of the Olympic tradition. And I want to thank everybody again for joining the call. Take care, and Ben, take it away.
MR. RHODES: Great. Well, thanks, everybody, for joining the call, and, of course, thanks to Mrs. Obama for her leadership and for leading this delegation to a very important event.
Obviously, the Olympics are always a very exciting and -- event for the American people. However, I believe that these Olympics will be even more meaningful to the United States because they are taking place in London. The United Kingdom, of course, is one of our closest allies in the world, and the ties that we have between our countries are deep and enduring. And so having, again, the Olympics hosted by a country that is as close to the United States as any other in the world only heightens the significance of the Olympics.
As you all know, the U.S. and the U.K. work together on just about every issue of interest to our two countries when it comes to national security and the global economy. The U.S. and the U.K. are serving together in Afghanistan as we complete a transition to the Afghans and wind down the war there. The U.S. and the U.K. stood side by side in Libya during our recent intervention where we were able to protect the Libyan people and help bring about the end of the Qaddafi regime. And we cooperate really on every major issue that you can think of -- from counterterrorism to the global economy to international peace and security.
So this, in addition to being an important visit to the Olympics, is another opportunity to reaffirm the special relationship between the U.S. and the United Kingdom.
I’d note that this is in line with a number of visits that we’ve had to the United Kingdom and opportunities we’ve had to host British leaders here in the United States. The Obamas have traveled twice to the U.K. -- first, in 2009 for the very important G20 meeting that was hosted in London in which President Obama came together with world leaders to help rescue the global economy. And Mrs. Obama, of course, was able to do some very exciting and meaningful outreach to the British people.
It includes, of course, the state visit that President Obama and Mrs. Obama made to the U.K. in 2011 when, again, they were able to both have a series of meetings with the leaders of the U.K. They were able to be hosted by Her Majesty, the Queen, and were also able to do some important outreach to the people of the United Kingdom.
And earlier this year, we reciprocated that state visit by having a very successful visit to the United States by Prime Minister and Mrs. Cameron that included an event in which the First Lady and Mrs. Cameron were able to have Olympic athletes and Paralympic athletes engage in some activities for some of the local children here in the Washington, D.C. area.
I’d just say a couple of words about how the First Lady’s events build on the special relationship between our two countries. First of all, Sam will follow me and discuss the Let’s Move event, but the First Lady will be able to visit with our staff at the embassy. This is one of our most important embassies in the world, and every time we’re able to thank our civilians and other embassy personnel for their service, it’s a very meaningful opportunity.
The First Lady will also be attending the reception that the Queen is hosting for heads of delegation, which will give her an opportunity, of course, to pay her respects to the Queen and also to meet with the range of other heads of delegation, which includes a variety of heads of state and other important personalities from around the world who will be converging on London for the Olympic games.
She’ll be meeting with Samantha Cameron, and she’ll also be meeting with some of the military families -- U.S. military families that are serving in the United Kingdom in keeping with her focus on military families as a top priority through the Joining Forces initiative.
I’d just say one other point about both her meeting with Mrs. Cameron and her visit with the military families. In large part, because of the initiative that she -- the First Lady and Mrs. Cameron have taken together, the U.S. and the U.K. have worked together to lift up the issue of how are we caring for our troops, our veterans and our military families.
And out of some of our earlier meetings, we established last year a U.S.-U.K. task force on our Armed Forces personnel, veterans and military families. And the purpose of this task force, which has met a number of occasions since then, is to share best practices; in some instances, to have personnel travel to each country and discuss how we can improve our care for wounded warriors, how we can improve the way in which our military personnel transition into civilian life and seek greater opportunities in civilian life.
It also includes a focus on how are we caring for those who suffer from mental health injuries, given that this has been a signature wound for both U.S. and U.K. personnel in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And of course, it builds on the work that the First Lady has done on the Joining Forces initiative to, again, engage in a discussion about best practices for how our communities can support military families.
So we’ll once again have an opportunity to spotlight our joint efforts in terms of how we’re standing by our troops who served together in Iraq and Afghanistan, how we’re caring for our veterans, and how both the United States and the United Kingdom are providing support for our military families.
So the bottom line is I think it’s important to underscore that while this visit is about the Olympics, it’s also about advancing the close ties between the U.S. and the United Kingdom -- ties that are about the close cooperation between our governments, but also about the deep bonds between our people. And the President and Mrs. Obama have done a lot of work since they took office, again, to reach out to our closest allies, to reaffirm the bonds that our alliances depend upon, but also to reach out to publics. And Mrs. Obama, again, has been to do that on her travel to the United Kingdom in the past, and so therefore her events I think will build on a record of reaching out to cooperate with the government of the United Kingdom but also to speak directly to the people of the United Kingdom, as well.
With that, I’ll turn it over to Sam, who can say a few words about the Let's Move event in particular.
MR. KASS: Thank you, Ben. And thanks, everybody, for being on the call.
The First Lady has really seen the Olympics as obviously an amazing moment for the nation and for the world, but also an incredible opportunity to rally around the health and wellbeing of our kids and utilize all the excitement around the games to inspire our kids to move more. So we have been hard at work at that for many, many months.
The First Lady -- we started a lot of this work hosting a mini Olympics with -- a while back in the spring to get our kids starting to get excited. She spoke at the Wounded Warrior Games, their opening ceremony, and has announced a really exciting national initiative to have fun days through meetup.com, which will get communities active all over the country. So right now we have already almost 200 cities and towns and communities that have signed up to do events to really give kids opportunities to play and be active in the theme of the Olympics, and we’re encouraging many, many more to join.
And the partnership and commitment from the USOC and the governing bodies are really groundbreaking efforts to expand programming in communities all over the country, particularly for those kids who don't have access to sport and play opportunities, and give them very positive experiences about being active, which can have a transformative impact on kids for the rest of their lives. So we're very grateful that we're going to touch 1.7 million children in this next year alone and continue that work from there. So all of this is leading up to what will be an amazing few days in London, highlighting our young people.
So Let's Move in particular will have two great opportunities. On Friday, the 27th, we are -- the first day we'll be going to the U.S. Olympic training facility at the University of East London to meet with many of our athletes and have a chance to honor them and thank them for their service to the nation. And then we will be going to the Ambassador's residence later that morning to have what will be an incredible Let's Move London event where we'll have about a thousand kids, American and British kids, and incredible lineup of athletes, of entertainers, including -- even SpongeBob will be there. And it's going to be an amazing day of fun that actually gets kids out moving and running around and playing in a very diverse set of stations, with a lot of excitement, which will hopefully send a lot of these young people on their way to living active, healthier lives.
So we're very grateful to all of the partners -- it's too long of a list to even begin, but I think everybody has it -- their efforts to make this day possible, especially Nickelodeon and others who are really putting on a lot of effort here. And it's going to be an amazing day. So we're really excited to get there and run around with the kids.
So, with that, I will give it back to Hannah and I look forward to taking your questions.
MS. AUGUST: We have two members of the First Lady's delegation on the line. As everybody knows, the First Lady will be joined in London by Brandi Chastain, Dominique Dawes, Gabriel Diaz de Leon, Grant Hill and Summer Sanders. And we have Dominique and Grant on the line now. So I'd like to turn it over first to Dominique.
MS. DAWES: Well, thank you, Hannah. I'm very excited to be a member of the First Lady's Olympic delegation, as well as being the co-chair of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. I know as a veteran athlete, I just know how important it is for Americans to support fellow Olympians that are competing in the sport. And so, to be there at the opening ceremonies with the First Lady's delegation, as well as helping out in a number of Let's Move events will be an honor for me.
I've been focusing on health, fitness and wellness since I retired 12 years ago, and kids are a targeted group that I'm very passionate about. So to have an opportunity to work with these young kids and teach the importance of physical activity and nutrition I truly think will leave a lasting and a positive impact.
So, again, I'm thrilled to be a part of this delegation. And I do believe that during these Olympic years it's also a great time for young kids to watch these different sports that are so popular, like gymnastics or basketball, or track and field, but to maybe look at table tennis, diving, or even trampoline, because those may be sports that they have an interest in, a passion for and a talent in, and that might be the next fitness activity that they may shine in, hopefully in the future.
MS. AUGUST: Thank you so much. And Grant, I'll turn it over to you next.
MR. HILL: Thank you, Hannah. Just like Dominique, I'm very thrilled, excited and honored to be a part of this First Lady's delegation to the Olympics in London. I, as well, am on the President's Council for Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. And it's just a tremendous honor.
When I think of the Olympics, to me the Olympics embodies everything that the First Lady, with her initiative, the Let's Move campaign, it's really what it's all about. I remember as a child vividly watching the '84 Olympics and being enthralled and motivated and inspired by the commitment and the excellence of those athletes, and, like Dominique, having the opportunity to participate in the Olympics and to now -- to now watch as a veteran these great athletes, it will continue to motivate and inspire me.
So I am forever grateful and thankful, and I'm looking forward to participating in the Let's Move event, and watching and getting to know a lot of these great Olympic athletes firsthand.
MS. AUGUST: Great. Thank you so much, Grant.
And both Mrs. Obama and Sam touched on the 1.7 million commitment from USOC and the different Olympic sports, so we have Kevin Dowdell from the USTA on the line to just give us a little bit of a flavor about what that means and what's happening on the ground. And USTA has been a tremendous partner in this effort. So I'll turn it over to Kevin.
MR. DOWDELL: Sure. Thank you, Hannah.
The USTA is honored to participate in the First Lady's Let's Move campaign, and I have to say I'm personally honored to support the First Lady as a friend and a former classmate.
Childhood obesity is a vital issue for all Americans, and the USTA wants to be a big part of that solution. Introducing kids to the lifetime sport of tennis makes a lasting difference in the lives of children and it supports the goals of the Let's Move campaign as well. And we're really excited about how the Olympics can energize us all to be even more active.
Tennis has grown dramatically over the last 10 years, and now the USTA is focused on attracting even more youth to our sport. For example, the USTA Ten and Under Initiative, which uses smaller courts and slower, lower-bouncing balls, will introduce the game to hundreds of thousands of new kids this year alone. And that's real. It's happening all around the country.
Many tennis centers, including the Montgomery TennisPlex facility we're building in Germantown, Maryland, and which opens in September, use innovative new USTA programs like tennis play days and kids tennis clubs to introduce young players to the sport. Tennis, like many sports, is holistic in the sense that it leads to improved academic performance and character development in addition to enhancing fitness and habits of good health. So schools are an important place for the USTA to spread the word.
Many elementary schools in the Germantown area offer physical education just once a week. So tennis play days and kids tennis clubs are especially important. As an example of the pent-up demand for additional activities, we held a pilot program in Germantown's Spark Matsunaga Elementary School in May. We weren’t even open and we held it in the gymnasium, and it sold out in about 48 hours. Further, we anticipate that hundreds of Matsunaga's thousand students will enroll in tennis programs after we open them this September.
When we had our pilot last spring, many of the parents were afraid that the programs would already be sold out in September. And that demand and energy is why thousands of tennis facilities like ours throughout the U.S. are joining to engage 750,000 youths in USTA programs to support the USOC's larger commitment to introduce 1.7 million kids to Olympic sports in 2012, as you've heard. We know that so many kids will be inspired by this summer's Olympic Games, and we look forward to turning that inspiration into action by getting more kids out on the courts.
MS. AUGUST: Great. Thank you so much. And with that, the First Lady has to depart. But we will open it up to questions for Ben, Sam, Dominique, Grant, or Kevin.
Q Hi. My question -- is the First Lady Michelle Obama going to meet Queen Elizabeth II?
MR. RHODES: Well, this is Ben Rhodes. I'm happy to take the question. The First Lady will be meeting with Queen Elizabeth. Queen Elizabeth is hosting a reception for all the heads of delegation from around the world. And so, the First Lady will be attending in her capacity as head of the delegation.
I'd also note, again, during the state visit to the United Kingdom that the President and the First Lady did in 2011, they were hosted at Buckingham Palace by Queen Elizabeth and very much appreciated the extraordinary hospitality and the chance to meet with the Queen there, and were able to reciprocate that by hosting the Queen at a dinner in her honor at the U.S. Ambassador's Residence in London shortly after that dinner.
So they were able to have that very special time with the Queen, who they have a great deal of regard for. And then, recently, President Obama was honored to extend his greetings and congratulations to the Queen on her 60th anniversary of taking the throne through a video message and a message he delivered to the Queen and her subjects.
So the First Lady will have a chance to meet with the Queen. And, again, that builds on I think what has been a very valuable experience for them in terms of being able to interact with her, and, again, to reaffirm the fact that she really stands for the endurance of the relationship between the U.S. and the United Kingdom. Again, her six decades of rule are a period of time in which the bonds between our nations have only grown stronger. And this Olympics, again, will be an opportunity to reaffirm that.
Q Hi. Thank you so much for taking my call. I really appreciate it. I’m curious about the meet-ups. Do you have a number on how many meet-ups are in place for the Olympic launch, and what activities families can do if they're not able to attend one of the meet-ups?
MR. KASS: So right now we’re approaching -- we’re almost at 200. We expect that number to continue to grow throughout the week as we’re going to continue to add some excitement to it and as communities are becoming aware.
And communities are going to be doing all kinds of different events from hosting mini-Olympic events, little sporting events, getting together to cheer on the athletes. It’s going to take on many different forms. And I think -- look, every family can host their own little Olympic party and use it as a great opportunity to get outside, to go to a park, to do races, to do swimming, to do basketball, anything you can think of.
So I think -- it doesn't have to be formally in the meet-up frame, but the inspiration that the Olympics provides is what we’re really trying to use in every way imaginable.
Q Thank you so much.
Q Hi. Thanks so much for taking my question. This question is for Dominique. This is the first year that there’s more female athletes than male athletes on the U.S. Olympic Team, and I just kind of wanted to get your thoughts on, growing up, I guess how far the female movement has come in the Olympics in your time, coming up through the system and now since you’ve retired?
MS. DAWES: Yes, well, Title IX has played a huge role in that. This year is the 40th anniversary of Title IX, and it has opened up a number of opportunities for females in sports. And I would have to definitely give applause to all of those pioneers -- those female and male pioneers that have really pushed for Title IX to make sure that women are given equal opportunity.
One of my fellow council members is Billie Jean King, and she does substantial work in ensuring that girls are given the opportunities to play and enjoyable opportunities to play. And I’m very excited to hear that us women are taking advantage of those opportunities. It’s not about having a higher percentage than the males; it’s just us embracing this opportunity and using it to reach our full potential and to help us up to the best of our abilities.
MS. AUGUST: Thank you. And we just have time for one last question.
Q Hi. I guess this question is for Sam: Has there been any effort made to serve healthy, kid-friendly food at the Olympics?
MR. KASS: At the Olympics more broadly, I can’t speak to, but for our Let’s Move London event, absolutely. We’ll be having water and we’ll be having some healthy granola bars and we’ll be having some nuts and other very healthy treats. So, yes.
MR. KASS: Everywhere we go, we try to make sure we’re giving our kids healthy options.
Q Great. Thank you.
MS. AUGUST: Well, thank you all so much for joining the call. Again, we look forward to the trip to London. And if anybody has any follow-up, the best way is going to be to email FirstLadyPress@who.eop.gov. Thank you so much.
1:42 P.M. EDT
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Reno, Nevada
11:49 A.M. PDT
MR. CARNEY: Good morning. Welcome aboard Air Force One as we make our way to Reno, Nevada. As you know, the President is addressing the VFW. He will talk broadly about American foreign policy, where we were four years ago, where we are now, and where we need to go. He will also talk about our veterans and the commitment that he has made and this country has made and must continue to make to our veterans who sacrificed so much serving abroad in two wars.
As you remember, when he spoke to the VFW four years ago, we were engaged in two wars that seemed to have no end to them. Our alliances were frayed. We were in the worst recession since the Great Depression, and people around the country were questioning America's capacity to lead.
I think it's fair to say that much has changed in those four years. The President kept his commitment and ended the war in Iraq. He is winding down the war in Afghanistan. He has taken the fight to our enemies, decimating the leadership of al Qaeda, including removing Osama bin Laden. He has restored our alliances, made them stronger. He has rebalanced our foreign policy toward Asia, an incredibly important region of the world that was largely neglected in the eight years prior to him becoming President. And he has made significant commitments to our veterans, both in their care and in helping them when they return from these wars and they return from service, helping them find employment here in America.
And that's my top. If Jen has something?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, just one announcement for all of you. Overnight, in advance of the President's remarks at the VFW Convention, we released -- the campaign released a video called "Welcome Home," that features a parade welcoming returning soldiers and discusses the President's commitment to keeping our nation's sacred promise to our veterans.
Jay touched on this, of course, but just a reminder, the President has fought to pass a new law that provides business tax incentives for hiring returning veterans and military families, and he fulfilled his promise to fully fund the VA by securing the largest increase in funding for the VA in 30 years. So look out for that video.
Q Will we get prepared remarks?
MR. CARNEY: I don't anticipate that we'll get prepared remarks. We may have some excerpts for you, but we may not.
Q The video that you talked about, and a little bit about what you talked about, as well, Jay, focuses on Iraq, drawing down the war. There have been some pretty horrific attacks there today. Does the President still consider this a success when you still have attacks and al Qaeda ramping up in Iraq?
MR. CARNEY: There is no question that Iraq remains a violent place, and we strongly condemn the attacks in Iraq. It is also the case that Iraq is not nearly as violent a place as it was, and that, thanks to the enormous sacrifice of U.S. military personnel, Iraqi security forces have been trained up and have the capacity to deal with their own internal security, which was exactly what the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people wanted. So the fact that there remains violence in Iraq is certainly the case and we condemn these attacks, but it is also the case that the Iraqi security forces have been trained up and do have the capacity to handle their own security.
Q Staying on Iraq, Jay -- critics of the President’s decision to withdraw the troops say that that has put at risk sort of gains in stability and security that America spent a lot of money and sacrificed a lot of blood in securing after the invasion. How do you respond to that criticism?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I understand that there are those who think we never should have ended the war in Iraq, that we should stay in Iraq, perhaps, for a second decade. The President simply disagrees with that. And the fact of the matter is that, as I said, thanks to the sacrifice and professionalism of U.S. military personnel, Iraq has significant numbers of security personnel who are engaged in and capable of providing security internally to their own country.
And I also question the general premise that the United States should militarily -- should send forces to every country that has an internal security problem in order to take for -- in order to deal with that security on the behalf of the other country.
MS. PSAKI: One thing just to add -- just a reminder on the President’s history on the war in Iraq. He stood up and opposed the war when many people did not, many years before he ran for President. He promised when he ran for President in 2007 and 2008 he would end the war in Iraq. He talked about it during his speech when he won the Iowa caucuses. And that’s been a long road for the American people, but it’s a promise that he’s delivered on.
Q Is the President ready to resume the sort of punch and counterpunch of the campaign after the weekend timeout?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the President spent -- as you know because you were all with us -- the day in Colorado, yesterday, meeting with families, remembering victims, hearing some incredible stories. And as we know, the road of recovery in Colorado is going to be very long, and the day the President spent with these families yesterday will be with him on the campaign trail for several months -- through the end.
At the same time, he also -- what keeps him up at night and what wakes him up in the morning is the concern about middle-class families, the challenges they're facing, whether it’s getting a job, whether it’s having access to affordable health care, whether it’s paying for their college education. And there’s a lot at stake and he will be continuing to lay out why he’s the right choice for the American people.
You may not have seen because we were taking off, but Mitt Romney did an event that was still going on as we were taking off with some small business owners where he -- where they once again kind of rehashed the false and misleading and out-of-context attacks on the President’s record, as well.
So this is -- we’ve got a long way to go here. Just to reiterate, the meetings the President had yesterday will be with him. They're -- they really touched him yesterday. But he also knows that he needs to make sure people know what’s at stake.
Q Jay, there was an international AIDS conference in Washington over the weekend. The White House had put out a series of fact sheets and updates and stuff on Saturday. Still there was criticism of the administration for -- on the AIDS program. And the president of the Black AIDS Institute said that the prevention efforts have been stalled. I was wondering if you have any response to that.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would refer you to the voluminous information that was provided in the run-up to the conference for all the steps that this administration has taken in the battle against AIDS globally and HIV globally. And I don't have any comment except that we certainly disagree with that and the President has a strong commitment to that fight.
Q Jay, on Syria, Senator McCain today said that other Middle Eastern nations are begging for American leadership on Syria. And in his words it’s "missing in action right now." How do you respond to charges that you've not done enough to deal with this as the situation is getting worse on the ground?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure what Senator McCain is suggesting that the United States do. Perhaps he’s suggesting that it ought to intervene militarily or perhaps invade. The President does not believe that’s the right course of action.
Right now we need to focus on the fact that Assad -- his days in power are limited. The transition needs to take place. There is broad international support for that. We are working to further pressure the Assad regime through sanctions and international isolation. We’ll continue to do that. We’re working to assist the Syrian people through humanitarian aid and the opposition through nonlethal assistance. And we will continue to work with our partners to bring about the political transition that the Syrian people deserve.
Q Staying on Syria. Assad's government talked today about responding with chemical weapons if they're invaded against a foreign invader. What's the President's stance on how the United States would respond if chemical weapons came into use against --
MR. CARNEY: There's a couple of hypotheticals involved in that. But I would simply say --
Q But his government is talking about using them. That's not --
MR. CARNEY: Well, he's talking about using them -- again, I'm just quoting you -- if there were foreign military intervention. Our position on this is very clear, as I said yesterday. We are concerned about the disposition of chemical weapons in Syria, but we believe that they are under control of the Syrian government. We have made clear to the Syrian government that it is their responsibility to keep control of those weapons and that they will be held accountable, both collectively and individually, if those weapons were to fall out of their control or in any way be used. That remains our position.
Q Has the President given any consideration to pulling back on fundraisers in light of events last week?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously visiting the families in Colorado was a huge priority for the President. We have clearly -- clearly the events, the tragic events of Thursday have impacted both the tone and the schedule, and it has for several days. There isn’t -- and I know I mentioned this yesterday -- there isn’t a playbook for this. We felt it was appropriate to pull down kind of the larger crowd energy event we had planned, and we're taking it day by day.
But again, the meetings he had yesterday, the interactions he had with the families, the time he spent remembering the victims was something he felt strongly about doing and that will stick with him, and I think will stick with him not just for the next few days but for the coming months.
Q Has he had any other briefings on the shootings with anybody else since we left Colorado?
MR. CARNEY: He received his regular battery of morning updates and briefings, including information on this, but not an in-person briefing, no.
Q It's a typical day in the stock market today -- there's concern about Europe. Has the President been in touch with European leaders at all?
MR. CARNEY: I have no calls to update you on. The President is briefed regularly and very engaged on this issue. We call on European leaders to take steps to follow through on the commitments they made in their summit in late June to stabilize the markets and to address the need for both growth and job creation, as well as long-term reform. And that continues to be our position.
Q -- going back to --
MR. CARNEY: Not unless there is a huge demand. (Laughter.)
Q Jay, on Iran, the Israeli Prime Minister yesterday said that Iran's behavior in Bulgaria and elsewhere has been "brazen, that the nuclear talks with Iran hasn’t stopped the regime one bit, not one inch." Do you think Israel is losing patience and wants to see more dramatic action?
MR. CARNEY: The United States and Israel share a great deal of information about Iran and their nuclear program. We have a very clear understanding together about what the state of that program is and Iranian intentions are. This President has made clear that Iran must not obtain a nuclear weapon, and that is why, through this President’s leadership, we have seen unprecedented international consensus with unprecedented sanctions that have had unprecedented effect on the Iranian economy and on the isolation of the Iranian regime. And we will continue to push forward in that effort.
As you know, new sanctions continue to come online periodically that heighten the pressure on Iran and make even more stark the choice that Iran faces, and that is to continue to be isolated, to continue to see its economy suffer, or to make the right choice to forsake -- forego its nuclear weapons program and to rejoin the community of nations by honoring its international obligations.
12:02 P.M. PDT
On Monday, July 23, 2012, the President signed into law:
H.R. 4155, the “Veterans Skills to Jobs Act,” which requires Federal agencies, when considering applicants for Federal licensure or certification, to consider relevant training that applicants may have received during service in the Armed Forces.
The President today declared a major disaster exists in the State of West Virginia and ordered Federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the area affected by severe storms and straight-line winds during the period of June 29 to July 1, 2012.
Federal funding is available to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the severe storms and straight-line winds in the counties of Barbour, Boone, Braxton, Cabell, Calhoun, Clay, Doddridge, Fayette, Gilmer, Grant, Greenbrier, Hardy, Harrison, Jackson, Jefferson, Kanawha, Lewis, Lincoln, Logan, Marshall, Mason, McDowell, Mercer, Mingo, Monroe, Nicholas, Pendleton, Pleasants, Pocahontas, Preston, Putnam, Raleigh, Randolph, Ritchie, Roane, Summers, Tucker, Tyler, Upshur, Wayne, Webster, Wetzel, Wirt, Wood, and Wyoming.
Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.
W. Craig Fugate, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security, named Dolph A. Diemont as the Federal Coordinating Officer for federal recovery operations in the affected area.
FEMA said additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further damage assessments.
On Monday, July 23, President Obama addressed the Veterans of Foreign Wars and discussed his Administration’s work to secure our nation, fight terrorism, renew American leadership in the world, better serve our troops and military families and honor our veterans. In his remarks, President Obama announced a redesign of the Transition Assistance Program. Developed by the Veterans Employment Initiative Task Force established by the President last August, Transition GPS will help our separating servicemembers successfully transition to the civilian workforce, start a business, or pursue higher education. The President also called on Congress to pass his Veterans Job Corps proposal and to extend the Returning Heroes and Wounded Warrior tax credits for businesses that hire veterans.
Additional background information on President Obama’s work to honor and support America’s military families and veterans is included below.
Transition GPS: Transforming the Transition Assistance Program
In August 2011, President Obama visited the Washington Navy Yard and directed the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to lead a task force to develop the first major redesign of the military’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP) in over 20 years. Prior to the President’s announcement, TAP consisted of pre-separation counseling and a voluntary, three-day workshop from the Departments of Labor, Defense, and Veterans Affairs that was presented at selected military installations nationwide, and attended by nearly half of the service members who separated from the services each year.
In his remarks to the VFW, the President announced the launch of a revamped transition program, which will help our separating service members successfully transition to the civilian workforce, start a business, or pursue training or higher education. This new transition program, entitled Transition GPS, will:
• Extend the transition program period from 3 days to 5-7 days.
• Strengthen, standardize, and expand counseling and guidance for service members before leaving the military.
• Transform the military’s approach to education, training, and credentialing for service members.
Transition GPS will be implemented throughout the Armed Forces by the end of 2013 and includes the following key components:
• Pre-Separation Assessment and Individual Counseling: Through the new transition program, separating service members will have individual counseling to discuss their career goals and start their transition process. Subsequently, members will have a needs and goals assessment coupled with a counseling session about benefits, resources, and available assistance across a wide scope of military separation topics. Each service member will develop an Individual Transition Plan that documents his or her personal transition, as well as the deliverables he or she must attain to meet the new transition program’s Career Readiness Standards.
• 5-Day Core Curriculum: The five-day Transition GPS Core Curriculum will include a financial planning seminar, a workshop offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs on available veterans’ benefits and services, and a re-designed employment workshop offered by the Department of Labor. Transitioning service members will also undertake a Military Occupational Code Crosswalk to translate their military skills, training, and experience into civilian occupations, credentials, and employment. An Individual Transition Plan session will allow Members to seek guidance from subject matter experts, identify career goals, and develop a roadmap for their transition.
• Career-Specific Additional Curriculum: In addition to completing the Transition GPS Core Curriculum, transitioning service members will also have the option of participating in a series of two day tailored tracks within the Transition GPS curriculum: (1) an Education track, for those pursuing a higher education degree; (2) a Technical and Skills Training track, for those seeking job-ready skills and industry-recognized credentials in shorter-term training programs; and (3) an Entrepreneurship track, for those wanting to start a business.
• CAPSTONE Event: Before their separation from military service, service members will participate in a CAPSTONE event, which will verify that transitioning service members completed the Transition GPS curriculum and achieved Career Readiness Standards. Service members who require additional assistance will be referred to supplemental training opportunities. In addition, through the CAPSTONE event, all service members will be offered a ‘warm handover’ to appropriate government agencies and organizations that will be able to provide them continued benefits, services, and support as veterans.
• Military Life Cycle Transition Model: The new transition program will incorporate career readiness and transition preparation into the entire span of a service member’s career. In the past, transition and preparation for the civilian workforce occurred late in a service member’s time in the military – near the point of separation. Under this new program, these concepts will be incorporated earlier to ensure that the counseling, assessments, and access to resources to build skills or credentials occur at earlier stages of a service member’s military tenure.
Hiring Our Veterans
Since the President took office, he has been committed to putting veterans back to work rebuilding and protecting America. From the work of the Joining Forces Initiative to encourage the private sector to hire tens of thousands of veterans to the passage of tax credits for businesses that hire veterans, the President has implemented a range of policies to connect veterans to job. Additionally, the President continues to call on Congress to pass the Veterans Job Corps proposal he announced in the State of the Union to help Afghanistan and Iraq veterans get jobs as cops and firefighters, as well as other jobs serving their communities. The President’s record on hiring veterans includes:
• Creating Two New Veterans’ Tax Credits: In November 2011, the President signed into law two new tax credits for hiring veterans, both of which he proposed as part of the American Jobs Act. The Returning Heroes Tax Credit provides an incentive of up to $5,600 for firms to hire unemployed veterans and the Wounded Warrior Tax Credit doubled the existing tax credit for long-term unemployed veterans with service-connected disabilities to $9,600. Both credits are set to expire at the end of this year, and the President is calling on Congress to extend those credits.
• Helping More Veterans Start Businesses: Nine percent of all U.S. firms are owned by veterans and more than 2.4 million veteran-owned businesses employ more than 5.75 million individuals. Between 2009 and 2011, over $3 billion through over 12,000 Small Business Administration loans went to small businesses owned by veterans and service disabled veterans.
• Increasing Access to Intensive Reemployment Services: Post-9/11 veterans are now able to download the Veteran Gold Card, which entitles them to enhanced reemployment services including six months of personalized case management, assessments and career counseling at their local American Job Center.
• Developing Online Tools to Boost Veteran Employment: The Administration launched the Veterans Jobs Bank, an easy-to-use tool to help veterans find job postings from companies looking to hire them. It already searches over one million job postings and is growing. Additionally, the Department of Labor launched My Next Move for Veterans, a new online resource that allows veterans to enter their military occupation code and discover civilian occupations for which they are well qualified.
• Increasing Hiring of Veterans in Healthcare-Related Fields: The President challenged Community Health Centers to hire 8,000 veterans – approximately one veteran per health center site – over the next three years and the Health Resources and Services Administration pledged to open up career paths in addition to nursing and expand opportunities for veterans to become physician assistants.
• Hiring More Veterans in the Federal Government: The federal government has helped lead efforts to employ veterans, hiring more than 200,000 veterans since 2009.
• Streamlining Civilian Credentialing for Service Members and Veterans: Last month, the Department of Defense established, under the President’s direction, a Military Credentialing and Licensing Task Force, which will identify opportunities where service members can earn civilian occupational credentials and licenses without the need for additional training. As the first action of the Task Force, all branches of the military worked with manufacturing credentialing agencies to enable up to 126,000 service members to gain industry-recognized, nationally-portable certifications for high-demand manufacturing jobs.
Supporting Our Veterans and Military Families
Other steps taken by the Obama Administration to support veterans and military families include:
• Strengthening the VA: Under President Obama, the VA has received record-levels of funding, with the FY13 budget calling for $64 billion in discretionary spending, and $76 billion in mandatory funding. In addition, the Administration has made it clear that veterans benefits are exempt from sequestration.
• Strengthening Military and Veteran Education Benefits: In April, President Obama signed an Executive Order to help ensure all of America’s service members, veterans, spouses, and other family members have the information they need to make informed educational decisions and are protected from aggressive and deceptive targeting by educational institutions.
• Extending Benefits to Victims of Agent Orange: In the last two years, VA has processed 230,000 claims and awarded $3.62 billion in retroactive benefits to nearly 130,000 Veterans and survivors who were harmed by Agent Orange.
• Mental Health: The Deployment Health Clinical Center (DHCC), a Component Center of Defense Centers of Excellence, developed the RESPECT-Mil program, which enables primary care providers to screen and treat patients for PTSD and depression. To date, the program has screened over one million primary care patients, identifying more than 68,000 Service members with previously unmet psychological health needs and referred them to care. The program has expanded to more than 60 primary care clinics across more than 25 Military Treatment Facilities. Today, more than 1,117 DOD Military Family Life Consultants (MFLC) provide support on active duty installations in all 50 States, four Territories, and the District of Columbia. In FY11, MFLCs provided approximately 6.8 million face-to-face counseling sessions.
• Ending Veterans Homelessness: The Obama Administration is on pace to meet the President’s goal of ending veterans homelessness by 2015. The number of homeless veterans has decreased by 12 percent from 2010 to 2011 on a given night.
• Working to Prevent Suicide: VA has increased the number of mental health professionals by 48 percent since 2006 and in April, announced they would hire an additional 1,600 mental health providers. Since 2009, VA has increased the mental health care budget by 39 percent. The Department of Defense has made suicide prevention a top priority, increased behavioral health care providers by 35% over past three years and increased the number of these health care providers in front line units.
• Eliminating the Disability Claims Backlog: While VA has processed more than one million disability claims in the last year, more work remains to be done. VA has redeployed 1,200 claims experts to target and tackle the most complex claims in the backlog. The Department is also deploying new technology and procedures to ensure our Veterans get the timely, quality benefits they need and deserve.
• Supporting Veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: In July 2010, the VA published a historic change to its rules, streamlining the process and paperwork needed by combat veterans to pursue a claim for disability pay for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The VA has also expanded its mental health programs, hiring more than 3,500 mental health professionals since 2009. Additionally, VA’s 2013 budget proposal includes $6.2 billion for mental health initiatives.
• Honoring Vietnam Veterans: President Obama and the entire federal government have partnered with State and local governments, private organizations, and communities across America to launch the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War—a 13-year program to honor and give thanks to a generation of proud Americans who saw our country through one of the most challenging missions we have ever faced and pay tribute to the more than 3 million men and women who answered the call of duty with courage and valor.
• Traumatic Brain Injury: VA has launched a comprehensive program to identify, screen and treat all Veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI), and to ensure that they receive patient-centered, integrated care and benefits. President Obama signed an amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act which allows individuals with PTSD and TBI to more easily seek legal protections as they look for and participate in employment opportunities.
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