washingtonpost.com  > Politics > Elections > 2004 Election > John Kerry

Transcript: Kerry Speaks to VFW Convention

Candidate Denounces Bush Plan to Recall 70,000 U.S. Military Personnel From Foreign Duty

FDCH E-media, Inc.
Wednesday, August 18, 2004; 12:45 PM

Following is the transcript of Sen. John F. Kerry's speech to the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Cincinnati:


_____Free E-mail Newsletters_____
• Politics News & Analysis
• Campaign Report
• Federal Insider
• News Alert

KERRY: Let me offer this pledge.

As president, I will always remember that America's security begins and ends with the soldier, sailor, airman, Marine and Guardsman, Coast Guardsman, with every man and every woman in our armed services who has ever stood guard at the gates of freedom.

Today, I salute each and every one of you for your commitment, your strength and your extraordinary courage. America says thank you and we all join today in a special salute to the greatest generation veterans whose memorial finally stands proudly in a place of honor on the Mall in Washington.

Thank you for your extraordinary example as citizen soldiers.


I also want to just say a word briefly, if I may, to those who are currently risking their lives in places as far away as Iraq and Afghanistan and other places. America's prayers are with you. We honor your service. We thank you for your sacrifice. And we pledge to stand with you and with your families as you stand for ours.


Like veterans of all wars past, today's fighting men and women deserve our prayers and support, and then when they come home, they deserve the respect and welcome of a grateful nation.

After all, the first definition of patriotism in my judgment, beyond service to country, is keeping faith with those who have worn the uniform of the United States of America.

And one of the best ways to do that is to make sure that those who have served us on the front lines return to an America that gives them the tools to build strong families and strong communities here at home. This means the transitional assistance to be able to help all of those returning from war struggling to adjust to civilian life and coping with the scars of battle, both those seen and unseen.

KERRY: This is about keeping a sacred promise. It's about love of country. And it is about protecting those who have risked their lives to protect ours.

Now, in recent days, you have heard from some who claimed that the job is getting done for veterans. Well, just saying that the job is getting done doesn't make it so.

My friends, let me tell you when the job will be getting done. The job will be done when 500,000 veterans are not excluded from the V.A. health care system.


The job will be done when we're not closing V.A. hospitals so that veterans have difficulty reaching the very care that they need. The job will be done when veterans are not asked for increasing co- payments, enrollment fees and other charges that shift the burden of care to other veterans and drive more than a million veterans out of the system.


The job will be done when 400,000 military retirees get real concurrent receipt.


The job will be done when there are no homeless veterans on the streets of America.


The job will be done when more than 320,000 veterans no longer are waiting on decisions on disability and 100,000 are not awaiting appeals of those decisions.


KERRY: And the job will be done when the V.A.'s secretary does not have to complain publicly that he needs more than the White House wanted to give him.

And the job will be done when the family of a 21-year-old named Jay Brassino (ph), a veteran who faces a lifetime of disability, when that family doesn't have to sleep at his bedside because the V.A. can't afford to give him the round-the-clock nursing care that he needs and deserves.


It is clear that when it comes to protecting, when it comes to saying thank you, when it comes to living up to our obligation to honor those who wore the uniform, America's 26 million veterans and their families are far from being able to claim mission accomplished.

Let me make this clear.

For 35 years, I have stood up and fought and kept faith with my fellow veterans. As president, I will stand with you to complete that mission. The sacrifices that you've made on the battlefield are well known, but what is not as well known is the long battle of these 35 years.

I can remember when we came back from service in what we all know was a controversial period of time; I wish it hadn't been. I volunteered for my country. I volunteered to go to Vietnam. I volunteered for the duty that we had. I didn't make it controversial; the war and the times were.

And as too many of us know, it was a time when the war and the warriors became confused.

I say to you, with my experience, never again in America should the warriors ever be confused with the war. And our nation should always be prepared to stand and say thank you.



KERRY: But here is what I know. Here is what I know in my heart and in my gut.

When I visited hospitals after I returned, I saw vets who weren't getting the care they needed, and we raised our voices and we fought hard and we got additional funding for those V.A. hospitals. We got hospital care for places that couldn't provide it.

I know how we reached out and we found the first medical assistance in the country to help veterans be able to adjust, who were having difficulties re-entering into life. We put together the first ever outreach groups to help deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, which has now become recognized across our V.A. system.

I know how we pushed to get the GI Bill extended so that veterans who had been lost, who kind of dropped out, who didn't quite know how to process it all, were able to still use their GI Bill and get the benefits that they had coming to them.

And I know how we won increases hard fought for veterans' allowances and for living expenses so veterans were able to go to school and open the doors of opportunity.

I stand here in front of you proud in my heart and in my gut that we kept faith together. It was veterans fighting for veterans, veterans standing up and speaking on behalf of veterans.

And together, with the help from the leadership of the VFW, we can be proud that we put in place the most thorough, the most extensive, the most exhaustive, the most expensive effort in all of human history to account for our missing, captured, or dead in all of the history of human warfare.

We made that happen. We veterans made that happen. We kept faith and we should be proud of keeping faith with our fellow servicemen and women.


I am especially proud that together with former Senator Bob Smith and Senator John McCain we led that fight and we won this fight. When I got involved in this issue, there were hundreds of individuals, hundreds of families in America, who didn't have answers about their loved ones. Their fates were unknown.

Today, thanks to our work together, and I particularly thank Larry Rivers, who was then your commander in chief, who worked so hard to help us make this happen, today that number has been reduced from hundreds to 35.


That means that families now have the peace of mind and the comfort of knowing that their loved ones are resting in peace, of knowing what happened.

KERRY: I went back to Vietnam to search for our POWs and our missing, because I believe, as I know you do, that our troops never leave anyone behind. That is the standard by which we live.


That is why I fought for the legislation that allowed veterans to be treated. I not only fought for it; I wrote it. I drafted it. Tom Daschle and I pushed it, and we got it passed.

And today, veterans are treated in hospitals for devastating agent orange conditions like cancer and neurological disorders. Again, we kept faith and we provided help, as we have with the Gulf War syndrome and others.

And I will continue to stand with you as president, leading the fight for a military family bill of rights and leading the fight for full mandatory funding for veterans health care, which is what we need to keep faith in this country.


As many of you know, some of you may be those parents. A lot of military families are going through difficult times these days. Many of their loved ones are in faraway places, leaving the families at home to care for the entire family.

As many people also know, guardsmen and reserves who are called up are often going down in their pay from what they got on the civilian side when they go into the military. So families are left behind struggling to keep up with the mortgage, or the tuition payments and other things. I believe we ought to be helping those folks.

The last thing our servicemen and women need on their minds is the stress of wondering if their loved ones back home are going to be OK and can pay the bills. And what they need, in my judgment, is a president who protects their families while they are putting their lives on the line for the American family.

That means making sure that families have competitive pay, good housing, decent health care and quality education for their children. And keeping faith with our veterans also means making sure they get full concurrent receipt.


Today, we've only partially met this obligation. And I'm not going to come to the VFW to tell you the job is done when it isn't done.

If you earned a pension, it's yours. It belongs to you because you did what you were supposed to do according to the rules. You worked a lifetime. You worked up your pay grade. You earned that pension just like everybody else in the private sector.

KERRY: And if you get a disability payment, it's yours because you suffered.

And I'll tell you what: I don't believe that you subtract what you have suffered from what you have earned.


As president, I won't stop fighting until our veterans get the full disability payments that they deserve.


You and I, by virtue of our membership in this organization, once left our families and our shores to defend the principles that make America great, and we understand more than most the cost of keeping our country free.

When you hear that more than 940 American troops have been lost on the battlefield in Iraq and that more than 6,200 of our troops have been wounded, some disabled for a lifetime, these are more than numbers to each and every one of us here; these are our brothers and our sisters, our sons and our daughters, America's heroes.

They testify to the truth: That we will never back down in defense of freedom, not us, not the United States of America. We will use superior military force to overcome any enemy.

And let me be clear. Like you, I defended this country as a young man and I will defend it as president of the United States.


I will never hesitate, not for an instant, to use force when it is required. Any attack will be met with a swift and certain response. Any imminent threat to our security will be dealt with swiftly and severely.

I will never give any nation or any international institution a veto over our national security. And I will build a stronger military.

But in these dangerous times, there is a right way and a wrong way to be strong.

KERRY: Strength is more than tough words.

After September 11th, I'm proud that all of our people rallied to President Bush's call for unity to meet the danger. There were no Democrats. There were no Republicans. There were only Americans. And how we wish it had stayed that way.


But since then, you know it as well as I do, we've become a country divided over Iraq, and it didn't have to be that way.

As veterans, we know what kids go through when they're carrying an M-16 in a dangerous place and they can't tell the difference between friend and foe. We know what they go through when they're out on patrol at night and they don't know what's coming around the next bend. We know what it's like to write letters home and tell your family that everything's all right, even though you're not sure inside of you that it really is.

I know what we have to do in Iraq. We need a president who has the credibility to bring our allies to our side, because that's the right way to get the job done in Iraq and bring our troops home.


And for anyone who questions that, I just ask you to use your common sense. Use your power of thought as a free American.

Every Arab country has a stake in not having a failed Iraq, but they're not at the table. Every European country has a stake in not having a failed Iraq and not having a civil war, but they're not at the table.

I believe we can do a better job. I believe we can bring NATO and other nations to share the cost and the burdens.

KERRY: Right now, the United States of America, your taxpayer dollars, are shouldering the lion's share of this effort even though other people have a legitimate stake in fighting a war on terror.

Nearly 90 percent of all the coalition forces are Americans. And nearly 90 percent of coalition coffins are draped with the American flag.

The American taxpayers are paying the vast share of the cost of this war.

I believe we can do better. I believe we can massively improve and accelerate our training of Iraqi police and security forces so they can defend their own country.

And we need to ensure that there is far greater security to provide credible elections in 2005 to advance Iraq's transition to a stable and representative democracy.

As president, I will always ask the hard questions and I will demand hard evidence and I will tell the American people the truth. Some may not like it, but I'll tell them the truth. And I will immediately reform our intelligence system so that policy is guided by facts and facts are never distorted by politics.


As president, I will wage war with the lessons that I learned in war. And some of those lessons run deep, folks -- what it means to have people without the equipment they need or jerry-rigging or, you know what I'm talking about, when the difficulties of the field confront the realities of the soldier.

Before you go to battle, before you go to battle, I believe you have to be able to look a parent or a family in the eye and you have to truthfully say to them, "We tried to do everything possible to avoid sending your son or daughter into harm's way, but we had no choice."

That, to me, is the test.

And now, with so much at stake in the struggle against Al Qaida, the American people want to hear in plain words the answer to a simple question: How are we going to get the terrorists before they get us?

KERRY: Just what is our strategy, not just for striking back against the terrorists, but for defeating their aims, destroying their movement, discrediting their cause, and bringing old and new friends to our side?

What is our long-term strategy for making America safer?

Over the course of this campaign, I have laid out my plans to reshape and rebuild the American military so it is ready to fight tomorrow's wars, not yesterday's.

As a combat veteran who's walked in your shoes, I know that the first duty of a commander in chief is to make sure that our troops are the best trained, best equipped fighting force in the world, and to never send them into battle without a plan to win the peace. That is essential.


That is why I have called for adding 40,000 troops, new troops, not in Iraq -- let me emphasize, not in Iraq -- but to relieve the pressure on the overstretched armed forces of today.

The fact is that the war in Iraq has taken a real toll on our armed services. Ninety percent -- 90 percent -- of the Army's active duty combat divisions are either in Iraq, have been to Iraq and are recovering, or they're on their way.

I will also double the Army's special forces so that we can find and get the terrorists before they get us.


And we must end the stop loss and involuntary recall of troops that amounts to nothing more than a back door draft. Our reserves and guards are overextended. And to fight this war, we've called them up at historic levels -- many of these units being pushed to the limit.

The administration has extended tours of duty, delayed retirements, prevented enlisted personnel from leaving the service. And when these troops come home, many have lost the job that they left.

We're going to see to it that everyone who has fought for this country has a good job when they come back to the United States of America.


At the same time, I believe we need to strengthen homeland security, and we have to do everything we can to prevent another 9/11.

We shouldn't be letting 95 percent of our container ships come into our ports without ever being physically inspected. We shouldn't be leaving nuclear and chemical plants without enough protection. And we have to make sure that first responders, our police and fire and EMTs and others, have all of the training and equipment that they need.

But as you know, ladies and gentlemen, because I know you think about this a lot as former service people, winning the war on terror demands a team effort.

We all know that the best intelligence comes from working cooperatively with other nations.

KERRY: And the most significant tool in a war on terror is good intelligence. You've got to know who they are, where they are, what they're planning, and you've got to be able to go get them before they get us.

And that requires the greatest cooperation with other countries that we've ever had.

That is why, for months now, I have been calling for the creation of a national intelligence director with the authority to oversee all of our intelligence services, to pull all of the information together to provide the maximum security to our nation.

Last month, the 9/11 Commission embraced many of these ideas. I've urged the president and the Congress to act and act now and implement them.

But if we're going to win this war -- and we will -- we have to listen to another profoundly important recommendation made by this commission. I share it with you. I quote, "Long-term success demands the use of all elements of national power: diplomacy, intelligence, covert action, law enforcement, economic policy, foreign aid, public diplomacy and homeland defense."

As president, I will fight a smarter, more effective war on terror. We will deploy every tool in our arsenal -- our economic, as well as our military might, our principles, as well as our firepower.

And only then will we be able to tell the terrorists, "You will lose and we will win."


Finally, I want to say something about the plan that the president announced on Monday to withdraw 70,000 troops from Asia and Europe.

KERRY: Nobody wants to bring troops home more than those of us who have fought in foreign wars. But it needs to be done at the right time and in a sensible way. This is not that time or that way.

Let's be clear. The president's vaguely stated plan does not strengthen our hand in the war on terror. It in no way relieves the strain on our overextended military personnel. It doesn't even begin until 2006, and it takes 10 years to achieve.

And this hastily announced plan raises more doubts about our intentions and our commitment than it provides real answers.

For example, why are we withdrawing unilaterally 12,000 troops from the Korean Peninsula at the very time that we are negotiating with North Korea, a country that really has nuclear weapons?


As Senator John McCain said, quote, "I'm particularly concerned about moving troops out of South Korea, when North Korea has probably never been more dangerous at any time since the end of the Korean War."

This is clearly the wrong signal to send at the wrong time. With Al Qaida operating in 60 countries, we need closer alliances in every part of the world to fight and win the war on terrorism.

So as president, I will be a commander in chief who renews our alliances based on shared interests and a common vision for a safer world.

For more than 50 years, our allies have joined with us to say -- to say clearly -- the future doesn't belong to fear, it belongs to freedom.


As veterans, there isn't one of us here who doesn't know to a certainty that we can win the war on terror, and we will. As men and women who have worn the uniform of our country, you know better than most that we can make our nation stronger here at home and respected throughout the world.

And so whether the issue is standing by our vets and their families, or whether it's standing up for our principles, our values and our freedom, the big question before us is not just who will lead America, it is whether America will continue to lead the world.

I am running for president because I believe that if we honor our highest values, if we do right by our men and women in uniform, America will always continue to be a beacon of hope and of freedom for all in the world.

America's promise is there. America's hope is there. Our best days are ahead of us.

Thank you for your service to our country. God bless you all. And God bless the United States of America.

Thank you.



© 2004 FDCH E-Media