- Overview -
"Of all the important days to be celebrated during America's Bicentennial, none is more worthy of special observance than Veterans Day. Had not the patriotic men and women to whom we pay deserved and grateful tribute on Veterans Day heard and answered freedom's call during the past 200 years, there would be no American Bicentennial of freedom."
Proclamation of Veterans Day, 1975
President Ford, a veteran of the Second World War himself, has been thus honoring America's veterans and fighting for their deserved benefits since the days even before he was first selected to the Congress. In 1948 he was named Young Man of the Year by the Grand Rapids Jaycees for his efforts in getting more housing and job-training opportunities for veterans.
Since taking office in 1974, President Ford has:
MIAs IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
Of all the personal tragedies affecting the lives of Americans from the war in Vietnam, perhaps the most moving is the lingering doubt many must endure over the fate of servicemen and civilians who remain listed as "missing in action." In trying to bind up the nation's wounds from that war, President Ford has been keeping pressure on the Communist governments of Southeast Asia to cooperate in accounting for the MIAs.
"The world should know that the United States will not falter in its determination to achieve an adequate accounting of our MIAs."
Memorial Day, 1975
Later, he made our position unequivocal:
"Our policies toward the new regime of the Peninsula will be determined by their conduct toward us. We are prepared to reciprocate gestures of good will--particularly the return of Americans killed or missing in action, or information about them."
Hawaii, Dec. 7, 1975
To encourage the success of private groups organized for the MIAs' cause, and to foster continued public concern, each January President Ford has declared a national day of remembrance for MIAs.
And President Ford has taken an active hand in resolving MIA cases. During his recent visit to the Peoples' Republic of China he discussed this issue with the Chinese leadership, and they provided him information on the fate of 24 Americans who had died on P. R. C. territory or in its waters.
VETERAN'S EDUCATION BENEFITS
The primary purpose of all GI Bill education programs -- World War II, Korean conflict and Vietnam-era -- has been to assist veterans make the transition from military to civilian life by helping them get the education they might have received if they had not served their country in a time of national emergency.
The Vietnam-era GI Bill has served its purpose well. By the end of 1976, over 7 million people will have taken advantage of their education benefits at a cost to the Government of almost $23 billion. But until May of 1975 peacetime volunteers remained fully eligible for all the wartime benefits designed to reward those who entered military service during the period of actual hostilities in Vietnam. President Ford, seeing that the period between cessation of hostilities and termination of wartime benefits was already longer for the Vietnam war than for any previous war, terminated eligibility at that time. However he emphasized that:
". . . the termination actions will in no manner impair the eligibility for full wartime benefits of . . . Vietnam-era veterans already discharged, or those presently serving in our Armed Forces.
"Future veterans disabled in service will continue to receive Veterans Administration compensation and other service-connected benefits on an absolute par with present wartime benefits. Families of those who die in service will receive the same service-connected benefits available to veterans of wartime service."
President Ford has been especially aware of the needs of those men and women who gave more than just their time. Speaking to the Disabled American Veterans he said:
". . . yours was the ultimate involvement. You gave your muscle, your blood, your courage, and your years. It was a priceless gift . . . that America must never forget, and . . . I salute each and every one of you . . .
"By maintaining, by improving our Veterans Administration we can ensure that veterans will get the help they richly deserve. That is why, even within the tight constraints of the Federal budget for fiscal year 1977, I have recommended a record amount of over four billion dollars for VA medical care."
President Ford has continued implementation of the major recommendations of the 1974 Quality of Care survey of all Va [VA] hospitals. The fiscal 1977 budget he has recommended will provide funds for the balance of more than 9,000 personnel added to the VA medical care staff, and for $200 million in construction work and correction of safety deficiencies in VA hospitals. As President Ford has said,
"Our prime responsibility is to provide the finest medical care for those who were injured in wartime . . ."
Recently, the President approved a program for the construction of all eight new hospitals recommended by the VA on the basis of planning studies by independent contractors. These studies were undertaken in response to a Congressional expression that additional hospitals be built. President Ford's 1977 budget includes funds for the two projects given the highest priority by the Administrator of Veterans' Affairs--Richmond, Virginia; and Bay Pines, Florida. The President plans to seek construction funds for the other six replacement hospitals at the rate of two a year for the succeeding three years. These other locations are:
In announcing his plan, the President said:
"Over one million people are served annually by Veterans Administration hospitals, nursing homes, and domiciliary facilities. They deserve to continue to receive care of the highest quality and the latest in medical research. This requires adequate hospital facilities. The actions I am announcing today reflect my commitment that the Nation's veterans be assured of the finest in quality medical care."
"There is no higher honor or more solemn privilege than to represent our nation in paying tribute to its honored dead . . .
"All who come to Arlington . . . must reflect upon the sacrifices made by those . . . brave Americans who lie in rest on these hillsides, as beneath silent markers at Valley Force [Forge], Gettysburg, and Pearl Harbor."
Memorial Day, 1976
President Ford, like the millions of his fellow Americans who also took up arms to defend our freedoms, feels that the real measure of a nation's tribute for its heroes is in providing an honorable final resting place.
"The freedom we enjoy today, these fallen won for us. The way of life that we cherish, they protected for us. The heritage they defended is now in our hands. We are guardians of their trust. Arlington Cemetery is their sacred shrine, but their greatest monument is the America they died to defend."
Memorial Day, 1975
In the past year the Veterans Administration has established two new National Cemeteries--Otis Air Force Base, in Massachusetts; and Riverside, California--and it will soon be developing additional cemeteries: one in Pennsylvania, and another in Virginia not far from the nation's capital.
The two cemeteries in Massachusetts and California are planned to include 750,000 gravesites. In the past two years the total number of available gravesites in the National Cemetery System has increased by about 20 per cent.
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