Remarks as prepared for delivery
Good morning, everyone. Before we begin today, I want to take a moment to address the senseless attacks that claimed the lives of two police officers early this morning in Des Moines, Iowa. A suspect is in custody, and the Department of Justice has offered any and all assistance to our state and local counterparts as they investigate these appalling attacks. We will continue to monitor the situation, and our U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Iowa will remain in regular contact with local authorities.
Violence has no place in the United States of America. It degrades our communities and it demeans our values. And when that violence is coldly and deliberately directed at those who risk their lives to enforce the law and to keep us safe, it is especially intolerable. This tragic incident is yet another reminder of the tremendous dangers that law enforcement officers face each and every day. The men and women in law enforcement deserve our gratitude and our respect. And more than that, they deserve our support, which is why the Department of Justice is committed to doing everything we can to give police officers the tools, training and equipment they need to do their jobs safely and effectively. And we are determined to hold to account anyone who targets police officers simply because they have the courage and the selflessness to wear the badge each and every day.
I know that this is a time of particular tension and mistrust between law enforcement and many communities. I know that while we do not yet know what led the perpetrator to commit these awful crimes, many will nevertheless be tempted to read a message or motive into this assault. But let me be clear: there is no message in murder. Violence creates nothing; it only destroys. And the path to the more just and peaceful society that we desire for ourselves and for our children is paved not with hatred and malice, but with compassion, and understanding, and the hard work of cooperation. Let those be our watchwords in the days to come.
I ask that you keep the families and loved ones of the brave officers we lost this morning in your thoughts and prayers.
Turning to today’s ceremony: Thank you, Lee [Loftus], for that kind introduction, and for your outstanding leadership of the Justice Management Division. Each and every day, you and your colleagues work tirelessly to ensure that the Justice Department has the resources it needs to serve the American people and I want to thank you for all that you do and for once again organizing this important ceremony. I also want to thank Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General [Bill] Baer for all of his office’s tireless efforts on behalf of veterans and servicemembers. And I want to thank the Joint Armed Forces Color Guard from the Military District of Washington for presenting our colors and the U.S. Army Brass Quintet for that stirring rendition of the National Anthem.
It is a pleasure to be here, and a privilege to join you as we gather to honor and pay tribute to the more than 28,000 veterans who serve the Department of Justice. That’s a little over one quarter of the department’s workforce. In a department characterized by service, our veterans embody that ideal every day. Next week we will celebrate Veterans Day – a special day in our nation and for so many of our military families. We are a nation forged in battle but constantly striving for peace. We have at times taken the battle to distant shores in the name of our own cherished ideals. And when we do we often send the flower of our youth to right the wrongs of the world. I still remember as a young girl my cousins and uncle going off to Vietnam, a place that had no meaning until it reached into my world and took them away. My father had a family prayer service for them the night before they left and the enormity of what they were doing and the fact that we could lose them, came to me for the first time. It was the first time I ever really knew someone who was prepared to die for an ideal, for someone else’s freedom. Over the years I watched as other family members, including my own brother, made the choice to serve their country in our military forces. It’s an example that has stayed with me throughout my service in this department. So today I am particularly honored to be able to join with you all to celebrate our nation’s veterans and honor our own who have served. Today’s ceremony gives us a chance to say thank you to this outstanding group: Thank you for your courage and commitment and thank you for the inspiring service you provide to the department and to our nation. We are truly grateful for your service and your sacrifice and owe it to you to ensure that we honor your service not just with words, but with deeds.
This is why in 2009, President Obama established the Veterans Employment Initiative to help our men and women in uniform find employment with the federal government when they return to civilian life. At the Department of Justice, we have made hiring veterans a priority. We were among the first agencies to create a Veterans Employment Office, which is housed in the Justice Management Division, and today, the department remains committed to answering the President’s call to help put veterans to work in communities across the country. As part of that effort, our Office of Community Oriented Policing Services Hiring Program gives preferential funding to state and local law enforcement agencies that commit to hiring or rehiring at least one military veteran.
We are also working tirelessly to ensure that our veterans and servicemembers enjoy the rights and protections that they have given so much to uphold. Under the leadership of the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, we continue to aggressively confront consumer fraud schemes that target servicemembers, including active-duty, national guardsmen and veterans. Our Civil Rights Division has worked diligently to help servicemembers recover funds from unlawful foreclosures that forced hundreds of servicemembers out of their homes. Through settlements with five of the nation’s largest mortgage services, 2,400 service members were eligible to receive over $311 million dollars of foreclosure-related compensation. And nearly 78,000 servicemembers have begun receiving compensation under the department’s $60 million-dollar settlement with Sallie Mae for overcharging on student loans. Finally, as Americans begin voting this Election Season, the Civil Rights Division stands ready to ensure that every eligible servicemember can cast his or her ballot by enforcing the Uniformed and Overseas Citizen Absentee Voting Act of 1986 – because those who are protecting our democracy overseas should have every opportunity to participate in it here at home.
As we carry this important work into the future, we are always seeking new ways to support those who have sacrificed so much in service of our nation. And today, I am proud to announce the creation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Enforcement Support Pilot Program. This important effort, which is coordinated by the department’s Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative, aims to enhance our enforcement efforts under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Through the pilot program, we will increase the number of attorneys working full time to bring cases against companies and individuals who unlawfully target servicemembers and their families. We will also cross-designate several judge advocates to serve as Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys who can support these enforcement efforts.
One of the most important things we can do is ensure that this work lives on beyond its stewards of today. Therefore, I am proud to announce that going forward, the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative will have a permanent home within the Office of the Associate Attorney General, and every U.S. Attorney’s Office will designate an Assistant U.S. Attorney as a liaison to the Initiative. The Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative has coordinated with department components and other federal agencies to build a network of support for servicemembers, veterans, and their families. By making it a permanent component of the department, we are ensuring that they will continue to benefit from that network for years to come. It is just one way that the Department of Justice is determined to do everything we can to serve and protect you – the men and women who have served and protected us. And so let me thank you, once again, for all that you have done for the Department of Justice, for the United States, and for the cause of freedom everywhere.
It is now my honor to introduce today’s distinguished guest speaker, who is a part of that tradition of service that we honor with our initiative: Lieutenant General N.Y. West. General West is the 44th Surgeon General of the United States Army and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Medical Command. A native of Washington, D.C., General West has served our nation with great distinction and honor. As a young medical resident, she served in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm during the first Gulf War. Later, she deployed to the Republic of Macedonia and Kosovo as Deputy Task Force Surgeon. She is the Army’s first African-American Surgeon General and first female African-American Lieutenant General; and she has achieved the highest rank of any woman graduate of the U.S. Military Academy. She has certainly garnered honors and acclaim. But like all great leaders, she considers herself first and foremost a “servant leader,” one who works for the people under her command.
It is our privilege and our honor to have her here today with us. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming our honored guest, Lieutenant General N.Y. West.