Obama Dedicates Disabled Veterans’ Memorial in Washington

President Barack Obama attended the dedication ceremony for the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial in Washington Oct. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)
President Barack Obama attended the dedication ceremony for the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial in Washington Oct. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

America’s disabled veterans were honored Sunday during the dedication of a national memorial that President Obama called a reminder to the nation of what it owes to those injured and wounded in combat.

“If they come home having left a part of themselves on the battlefield, on our behalf, this memorial tells us what we must do,” Obama said. “When our wounded veterans set out on that long road of recovery, we need to move heaven and earth to make sure they get every single benefit, every single bit of care that they have earned, that they deserve.”

Called the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, the memorial now standing about 1,000 feet from the U.S. Capitol and across from the U.S. Botanic Garden was 17 years in the making, the brainstorm of Florida philanthropist Lois Pope. In 1997, Pope asked an official with the Disabled American Veterans where in Washington stood the memorial to troops injured and wounded in war.

When DAV National Adjutant Art Wilson said there was none, Pope spent the next decade helping lead the effort as co-founder of the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial Foundation. Chaired by actor and longtime veterans advocate Gary Sinise, the foundation also picked up contributions from individuals, veterans groups, non-profits and corporations.

About $80 million was ultimately raised and ground was broken on the memorial in 2011.

In his remarks, Obama noted that as long as Americans have rallied to defend and fight for the country, its leaders have also at times let them down when the shooting was over. Obama alluded to George Washington’s 1783 letter to the states, in which he notes “the obligations this Country is under” to veterans waiting on promised disability pensions but who were homeless and begging in the streets.

“After the Civil War, and again after the First World War, our disabled veterans had to organize and march for the benefits they had earned,” President Obama said. “In the United States of America, those who have fought for our freedom should never be shunned and should never be forgotten.

Obama called the memorial “another step forward,” saying it commemorates “the two battles our disabled veterans have fought – the battle over there and the battle here at home. Your battle to recover, which at times can be even harder, and certainly as long.”

Obama also said Sunday that the memorial’s dedication served as a reminder of the sacrifices necessary with war.

“This memorial is a challenge to all of us, ‘a reminder of ‘the obligations this country is under’,” he said, invoking Washington’s words. “And if we are to truly honor these veterans, we must heed the voices that speak to us here. Let’s never rush into war, because it is America’s sons and daughters who bear the scars of war for the rest of their lives.”

Americans should only be sent to fight “when it’s absolutely necessary,” he said, and if sent given “the strategy, the mission, and the support that they need to get the job done.”

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com.

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