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tv   VA Secretary Robert Wilkie Discussion at Heritage  CSPAN  October 29, 2019 2:02am-3:02am EDT

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[inaudible conversations] >> welcome. i serve as president of the jesse helms center. located in north carolina just outside of charlotte, we are a 501(c) 3 nonprofit that houses youth programming as well as hosting lectures with the heritage
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foundation and others throughout the state and the country. so why the homes centered like? sure >> jesse helms and served in the senate for 30 years. in 1994, he became chair of the senate finance committee, becoming the second north carolina to do so. he was a leader, a top leader of the movement and he, along with margaret thatcher and ronald reagan were instrumental in winning the cold war and defeating communism. matter-of-fact, margaret thatcher wrote, jesse helms record as a freedom fighter is unmatched. he was also well-known as a bipartisan center. he and joe biden were
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close friends and to this day, vice president biden still talks fondly of his relationship with helms. and we refer to in the archives as love letters that joe biden and helms shared. we put them on our website. in 2001, helms announced --, walter reroll opinion, quote, asunder helms prepares to step down i cannot help but feel that we are losing something all too rare in american politics. a man who consistently put principle before expediency, loyalty before ambition and in these qualities, we could use a lot more like him. of course, senator house admiration of the heritage foundation is very well documented. on october 6th,
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2000, he said in a letter to dr. fuller, he said if america is saved, heritage will apply to an american role for salvation. finally, i know senator helms, mrs. helms would be so proud not only to be humbled by this lecture, but also be very proud of secretary wilkie, who served on his staff and when secretary wilkie stepped away from the senate to pursue other things, he wrote a letter to him and, quote, senator homes said he was a young man of five principal, great judgment and remarkable wisdom for one so young. i predict a great future for you. and he was right, as he has been. introducing senator
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wilkie, i mean secretary wilkie today. it's retired lieutenant colonel serves as the vice president of heritage. he has been here since 2009 and serves as the u.s. army for 25 years, in addition to leading heritage national security and foreign policy team, he also serves on the nonprofit spree decor, which educates the public about veterans affairs. i'll turn it over to the colonel. >> (applause) >> wow, this is the best in my life! i go to introduce a great friend and great american. unfortunately, he's no longer a young fellow, but he's still a
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man of high principles. thank you it's a real honor to partner with the jesse helms center on this lecture series, and other projects we've done over the years. you bring so much to us, so thank you. we've had a number of impressive speakers over the years. we've never ever had a personal speaker with a personal connection with the senator, as we do today with our senator, robert wilkie. secretary wilkie was in aid to jesse helms, and stood right here and my job and introduced so many distinguished speakers. to have them here doing this is one great payback. he is our guest today and deservedly so. he was confirmed by the u.s. senate on july 23rd, 2018, and sworn in on july 30th 2018, as a tenth secretary of veteran affairs
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prior to his prior position. he was the under secretary for defense, the principal adviser to the secretary and the deputy secretary of defense and served jim mattis as the undersecretary of defense as an assistant secretary of defense. before that was in a special assistant to the president of the united states for national security affairs and a senior director at the national security council -- did you ever see this guy at all? for five years he was part of the largest engineering management form at all. he's a colonel, we don't hold that against him, and he previously served in the navy reserve with the joint -- i hold that against him! with a joint force intelligence naval special warfare group to. he has army guys in his family, so that's a great redeeming value
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on his point. he won as many awards as mr. wilkie, he's the recipient of the defense disagree with public service, medal the highest in the department. today, he's here to talk about a subject which was very dear to senator helms heart, something that was very close to heritage and close to everyone in this room, otherwise you would not be here. when the most important things that we do, which is honor our veterans indeed and in spirit. late in, please welcome to the secretary of veterans affairs. >> thank you. i will make a confession right at the beginning. yes, i am the one who broke the mold in the family. i have my hearing, i'm not a field artillery officer
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but it is an honor for me to be here. i was thinking, as colonel said about the times i stood up here. the roll call of americans and foreign dignitaries of delivering this address, it's not only impressive but i think it is indicative of a better time in washington. where there were fewer barriers between those who may have had different views. as senator helms used to say when he would quote lyndon johnson, people that you may have disagreed with walked out arm and arm at the end of the day. he used that in his eulogy of his very good friend and one of the great americans of the second half. herb are on free.
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they came together in one regard and that was a love of country, and they believe that the security of the united states meant that the world had hoped to be free. amongst those who stood in this place, don kyle, marco rubio. the ambassador to the united states and now the conservative member of the united states parliament. this is about them. this is about the legacy of senator helms, as brian said so so eloquently. i want to go back to the 1970s. not in this country but in the united kingdom. the aircraft carrier of freedom. the place where
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democratic representatives of government began. in the 1970s. when sandra helms came to the united states senate, the united kingdom was on the eve of destruction. i saw it, as a young american who was stationed on the british military base. what we now know as the sylvie in, the welfare state to the life out of the people, and the socialist labor government accepted the united states devolution into throat was status. at the depth of this time, truly remarkable leaders. one was a methodist grocery store, the other was a baptist sheriff's son, they became united and unapologetic defense of the belief that
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western civilization was celebrating and defending. it was britain and her progeny, the united states that created the notion of a limited government in which democratic impulses were balanced by political traditions, resting on order faith and justice. margaret thatcher and jesse helms work cut from the same cloth. they were charged in the and, north carolina tottenham that they were built with a home in a family, not with programs and bureaucrats. they're protestant morality and from their politics. evil to them was not an in politics term. evil was a threat to be confronted and destroyed. in
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the mid 1970s, when mrs. statues leader to the leader of the conservative party. her focus was to reach out to potential allies across the ocean, and she decided to come to the united states when james callaghan denied her the use of the british embassy. she conducted meetings with famous americans, william buckley, who called his friend jesse helms and said i need a favor. and in an office or somebody i want you to me, she just like you, she does from middle england, but she wants to meet your friends. out of that one phone call, mrs. that she began a journey that not only transformed the united kingdom, but let her to a role as john the baptist, heralding the arrival of ronald reagan a few
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days later. and the senator helms is office, margaret thatcher stepped down with ronald reagan, built, very cold water, and the forging of a preplanned that swept away this government in london and washington. that your safety great britain, left to the chagrin of the old boys and her party. she set an example of that the stronger partner, personified by ronald reagan, used to restore american try to vanquish tyranny. all four trials, through almost 13, years she never got played by jesse homes. she made the journey from london, to north carolina with a home center
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with dedicated in april of 2000. this brian said, she noted on that day that jesse helms record as a freedom fighter for the west is unmatched, and his convention is so triumphantly validated, and the circumstances still embarrassing for his critics they have been writing than ever since. as she said, senator, no, always say yes. liberty. it was not easy for margaret thatcher and jesse helms to stand up, global totalitarianism,. they said they don't understand, i don't care what the process about me. but no one was ever neutral about either one of them. that is a testament to what they thought politics should be. not a tussle of banalities, but a battleground for passion, and ideas. they never lost an
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election, and that is what is often forgotten. they understood freedom better than many. senator house resolutely believed that american freedom required massive national defense. he told the veterans of foreign wars back in 1973, sooner or later a week america will be challenged. sooner or later, it week america will have to fight or surrender. senator helms from that small town in southwestern south carolina understood more than anybody how to fight. the fighting will be done but it will be done as it always has done by the average man, by the fellow who runs the gas station, the fellow who runs a little grocery store in north carolina, and the barbarous of north
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carolina. people carrying rifles, and that type of thing. he understood better than anybody else, what is gratified were from tennessee, by way of pecan county north carolina meant when he said, liberty and freedom and democracy were still very precious that you don't fight to win them once and stop. liberty and freedom and democracy are prizes awarded only to those people who fight to win, and keep fighting eternally. to hold them. that fellow was alvin york, the greatest of american soldiers of the great war. let me tell you, why the department of veterans affairs is necessary. it exists because this nation knows the value of the price that veterans have
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won and defended. the veterans affairs department exist to care for those who defend this country, as senator helped set. the gas station in, the small town grocers, the barber, ordinary americans asked to do extraordinary things to defend this country. just like alvin new york. i've been spending a great deal of times in the past you're, talking about the end of the war to end all wars because that was the war in which the united states of america erupted on to the world stage. 4.7 million americans served in that war. taking from all corners to plant the american flag on the globe and there were others and americans that were the 369th regiment
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from new york. 191 days on the frontlines in 1500 casualties. more than any other unit in the american expeditionary forces. even the kaiser himself called them the hell fighters. no unit has received more recommendations or honors no unit had more holders of medal of honor even those came long after they had passed away. and ordinary american at that time lied and cheated to get into the field artillery because he cannot bear the thought of friends and neighbors going to war and he not be there to support them he would go on to be one of the greatest presidents of captain truman.
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he left a small town law practice and a part-time teaching job to join the american army assembly that was my wife's grandfather from southeastern north carolina but before he was 18 he was marching up. four. 7million americans took a loss 150,000 did not return. america was not ready for them chaotic and inefficient series of organizations trying and failing veterans care was a national embarrassment one veteran himself led the reform
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that unified those that were responsible and in the wake of world war ii 15 billion returning both were two veterans after 22 months of hell and a grateful truman turned to the men that he knew to carry on the legacy and that was bradley. so the problems that are attracted asked them to think about the first eight weeks that omar bradley served of 11 million americans and in two years he built 52 hospitals
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and that academic relationship served as the core of veterans care 172 hospitals and clinics the washington post praised omar bradley's revoltution, that the v.a. brings new hope to disabled veterans medical care and turned the v.a. on a dime a completely overhauled the system and then established that institution and few know he was behind the homestead program that let world war ii veterans to get community care with a doctor of their choice and get drugs from a local pharmacy i doubt anybody on the
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other side ever talked about privatization. because it was about serving veterans needs. there are stories that always need to be told that i saw through the eyes of a child that america forgot the wisdom of harry truman and why we send americans overseas as a child i learned firsthand the price of four and that was grievously wounded. we didn't see him for almost a year or two. but because of how the veterans were treated he was actually allowed to recover for three
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years and he did return to fort bragg in the all-american division, as the most decorated combat unit in the united states from the western front. my father is a senior officer in that division not allowed to wear his uniform off post because the leadership in washington dc were afraid of their reaction that he would get get. that was not california or massachusetts but in north carolina. and as a child growing up i also saw them through the eyes of classmates there is always a
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chance in my world when a classmate is called to the principal's office there was bad news waiting. it wasn't a call to go to the doctor. that is what happened on april 4th, in 1875. ordering the evacuation of all orphanages in saigon of anticipation of that they call the operation baby left. one of the air force volunteers was a medic master sergeant, he was taking care of 100 orphans. it didn't make it to the end of the runway 100 children died that day 34 years after that aircraft went down a
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friend of ours from childhood would run deadly to vietnam and then touch the name of her father in the last four americans to parish. so as the nation corrects the mistakes of the sixties and seventies, i have the privilege of speaking a couple weeks ago and said president nixon would be astonished to appreciate that even hollywood stands up for veterans. that has allowed us to make important changes on behalf of veterans because we are one of the few that can engender support from every corner of america. with modern 21st century a look back at my
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father's wounds, after 30 years to new knees and to do hips and more lead and his plot. the rest of his life, he has had to carry around his medical records. under this president, we've been able to put together a electronic health care record that will begin to be felt that young american walks into a processing station, so that by the time that america becomes a veteran, we will know everything that had happened to her on her journey through the armed forces. no longer will veterans be forced to travel to doctors officers with papers
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that disintegrate in their hands. the other thing i want to address is the charge that many of you have heard. on june 6th, ironically, the congress chose the day for us to begin the implementation of--. the most transformative part of the history of our legislation, second only to the jury bill of june 1984. the mission act says, finally that if we cannot meet the needs of veterans across this country, we will give a veterans but let me tell you what else is happening. we've also been allowed to prevent to congress the biggest budget in the history of our department. 220 billion dollars, calling for 400 employees across 172
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hospitals. only in washington d.c. somebody say that a budget of that size would be a call to privatized and institution. let me tell you exactly where we are. in the last year, we have had 3.3 million appointments over the rate that we had last year.6 million h 1.6 billion of those appointments have been, as general gently prevented, and our communities, for the first time in history our veterans are now having the same access to care that their neighbors to. they don't have to go to the emergency room when they have to flip, or cold or a sprained ankle. we are giving them access to urgent care. to
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allow our veterans the safety of knowing that treatment is a whenever they need it. the biggest challenge he faces one outside of the walls. senator tell us it's referred to as for its come, because i tend to take every issue that i can confront and refer back to the roman empire. senator homes want to invented me and said that's a magnificent way to arm wrestle. politics and classics. your qualify to be a tour guide in rome, and have long conversation with nine year old priests. let me go back to the 1890s. benjamin harrison,
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nobody knows much about benjamin harris. other than four years in between two non successive terms of glover cleveland. before he went back to indiana, he acknowledged something that began to bother him when he was a major general in the civil war. he had noticed and the time between the end of the war and the time that he had been the governor of indiana. the u.s. senator and then president, that so many of the colleagues that he thought of it would die prematurely, not because of diseases at the 19 century but because they have taken their own lives. the united states army began collecting statistics on the suicide rate for officers and men in the 1890s. two weeks ago, i convened the very first all
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government council to finally have the national conversation on veterans suicide in this country. you're bringing together d.o.t., the indian health service, the national institutes of health to finally reach out and touch those american veterans that have reached the end of desperation. 20 americans take the lives each day. that number has been steady for more than 100 years, but the tragedy for us that 60% of those that take their lives have no contact with the department of veterans affairs. we must change that. we want to open our effort to combat suicide by using the free market, by opening up the aperture and providing support to charities, non governmental
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organizations and to the localities, those that we cannot touch. 60% we did not see. and hits all areas. but particularly in rural america and indian country, places that are hardest for us to touch. but we need everyone's help. if we just focused on the last tragic act in that veterans life, that will be another federal report that service nothing more than--. if we don't have the national conversation on mental health, addiction, and homelessness. so why are we doing this? i don't open up with this, but i'm going to conclude with the reason that we are here. since the first shots were fired in april of 1775, 41 million
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americans have put on the uniform. more than 1 million have died. our department was created in the midst of the most war in america. not a formal we were standing, very tired and got managed it up and created the charge that we live by, which is probably, it's the most righteous thing we've ever been given by an american president, and concluded a top on the lie the judgment of the lord would eventually be righteous. they called for us to bind up the nations, and more importantly, for his widow. few years before he passed away,
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senator helms introduced a new, and the uss north carolina, that are states important for those who fought and died in world war ii. there are 2000 north carolina names and that battleship. 10, 000, senator have said that the ultimate tribute to our forces is to inspect the legacy that we've all been given to preserve it for future generations. in 1964, when alvin york passed away, the president johnson said the most formidable army representative he could stay in the funeral one of america's greatest europe's, matthew
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bunker ridgeway. a man who led the all american division to victory in north african society, that have been charged by general eisenhower with planning the airborne assault. general ridgeway, on the night before d-day could not sleep. he was restless. he had given the orders to the screaming eagles and to the british forced airport. he actually fell out of his car. to save himself he reached out for the old testament, and he pulled out the book of joshua and the reference to joko. the promise that jessica received on that, the most ferocious battle to that time in the history of the here people that i will not fail the, nor forsake the. in 1980, six ronald reagan awarded the presidential medal of
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freedom. he said that heroes come when they are needed. great men step forward when encouragements for the black. i can't think of a better way to learn or abraham lincoln's legacy then to remind ourselves that we cannot fail nor forsake those who have served in uniform, to honor the memory of those 41 million, and to honor the great men and women who always stepped forward. so on behalf, i think you all for our support. i thank you for honoring the great men and women of our nation, and i thank you for allowing me to honor our great american senator, jesse homes. thank you so much
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>> and keeping with the tradition, he loved visiting with young people, a secular bulky can probably attached to, and others. but over 100,000 that he visited, he meant that a priority. in keeping with that tradition, we have had is a mentor and hear from the heritage foundation summit some questions, i've asked him for gravity and keep on time that they sent them to me via text. i'll start with the first one. question one. ask you travel around the country, secretary bulky, visiting veterans, what is something that you did not know as you are traveling? >> let me tell you would have, done up unfortunately be at the helm for one year and three months. i've been in 41 states.
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i learned that the only way to run a military outfit is to walk the post. let me tell you what i have discovered. i have discovered that the department of veterans affairs probably have dedicated the most in the country. let me tell you what has happened just in that last year. you all know better than anyone that this institution was rocked and roiled by bad headline after bad headline, and there is a tremendous change and the leadership, and the president of the united states is the first candidate and then the first to make veterans the centerpiece of his administration. let me just tell you what happened. in the last year, they have gone from
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17 at a 17 in terms of the best places and government to work, to number six. we have had the highest veterans approval rate in our history. the journal of the american association says that our way times are as good or better as any, and the private sector in the annals of internal medicine have set that are medical care was as good or better than any in the country. what does that mean? it means that, as i said, veterans are working with their feet. they want to go someplace where people can speak the language. some of whom are here today, all had very deep military experience let me tell you why that is important. there's no other part of society that is like the united states. no
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other place in america that you only for the brotherhood, but where that service and that brotherhood continues until the day you die. i'm responsible for hundreds of cemeteries across the country. the national cemetery administration of the va has the highest employee and customer satisfaction rates of any part of the federal government, including nasa. why? it is because we have a simple way of looking at the lies. the veterans can die twice, that is when the veteran passed away, physically and the second one we stop telling the story of the war. and i want to put up
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an bronze word for word the words of lincoln's second inaugural. the charge that created this incredible institution. but also the charge in some ways, that's more powerful than the gettysburg address. that it's a higher purpose, once you put on the uniform that played in a form that the national guard is wearing. i got around from the original question, i have been amazed at how ready the work force at the va is for change. transformational change because we are not only doing the things that you read, we are performing the supply change and our personnel system. we
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are changing the ways we evaluate our capabilities as opposed to the private sector. we are combining those great forces in america, the notion of military service and brotherhood, but also the forces of the free market. allowing veterans the opportunity to choose, if they so desire to go elsewhere. that's not enough. bradley talked about it. we have put it into action. i always say it's remarkable to here in 2019 that people in washington d.c. still do not understand the scale of the american west. i always say the lonely side of americas, is el paso.. we have americans that have to travel 700, 800 miles round
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trip to get to a va facility, why do we force them to do that if they are passing community hospitals, doctor offices, institutions like the mayo clinic in rochester, minnesota, just to force them to go to a va facility. i think it is our responsibility to care for all those in the battle. second question from an intern he had the opportunity to work for many leaders, for presidents and circuit area of defense, is there particular leadership strengths (inaudible) >> because, i'm gonna rattle off the names rumsfeld, rights,
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gates, trump, bush, there is no way i'm gonna talk about any one of those and then leave out one of the others, but i am gonna talk about where i grew up, i mentioned earlier that i visited the mix in a library, i remember my mother and her fellow young army wives watching the television pictures of the carnage on the streets of chicago, i can see them gathered him, their husbands had either, like my father had been to vietnam at least once or about ready to go to vietnam, they knew that the country was ugly at the time, they saw it coming apart and yet they all knew they were part of the community that had
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a higher calling, it didn't matter what was going on outside the walls come of fort sill or fort bragg, that they were going to support the community they have become a part of, so that is the world i grew up in and the lessons that i learned about south through service came from that period and i can tell him that is part of my father's recovery he was allowed to go and teach at the royal school of artillery, i remember, i remember taking trips, the beautiful cities wells, oxford, and on these magnificent structures built by
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the likes of indigo drowns there are pot marks, the cathedral being the great example of that, this medieval structure being, the home of the cathedral of saint michael was a show, the only thing left was the wall outside the high altar and two burnt timbers that the people of country had assembled thing where the great cross of the high altar headstone from 700 years, it struck me at that time how fleeting liberty was, here was this great nation, the home of the freedoms we enjoy in this country that law they came that
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close to losing, so that is a long winded way of saying the lessons that i learned most important ones of service came from watching people at fort bragg and fort sill, even when it wasn't popular to serve all in. >> one last question and the question is, a is asked at the va, what can americans outside of washington d.c. do maybe to help the va or veterans as a whole, there are a lot of different programs but what can americans who are veterans due to health department. before i answer that, i want to build on a conversation that you and i had earlier. i mentioned the
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list of great speakers who have come here and given the helms lecture. i introduced some of them, the last one being ambassador german. i also learned some very valuable lessons working in the senate in the 1990s. senator holmes had a great wall. just a politician with the arm around the celebrity. in fact, the only celebrities on that wall were close friends of his, names like jimmy stewart and john rain, not ordinary celebrities, but there were other pictures, he brought humphrey, jimmy carter. even allen canton. the reason i say
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this is that i learned, and edmonton at the beginning of the discussion, that the person that you disagree with in the middle of the day, is somebody who you leave the room with with your arm around. it was a better time. senator homes its best friends and the united states senate, where people like the lloyd benson, they'll bumper, and david primes. one of the status moments of this food was that the day that a plane crashed into minnesota, and it took the life of senator paul well stone. you cannot find two figures in this country for more polar opposites than jesse helms from maduro, north carolina, and paul well stone from minneapolis. yet, they had a
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special love between the that transcended politics. i will tell you, what i was working for senator a lot as the floor manager, senator helms had a terrible about, that actually led to another heart surgery. senator while saw me and he said i had not seen jesse. i explained it to him and he got visibly upset. he said can you help me, can arranged for me to go to both hazza, and i call the capital police, this is when jesse helms was running the station and raleigh. the station my wife and i grew up watching. iran for the capital police to take all lost on to the booth as the naval hospital so we could sit by the bed of
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somebody who probably, says something bad about him during the vietnam protest when paul wellstone was a student at the university of north carolina. that was america. let me tell you another story. it from the late lloyd benson. by the way, you need to read the acknowledgments and the endorsements, joe biden, madeleine albright, people who worked with him and appreciate this honesty. when senator helms had his first heart surgery he was running for reelection. i won't mention the senators names who is running, but democratic senatorial committee, but he was trying to get lloyd benton in north carolina against jesse helms. at the first request, lloyd benson told me this. he turned around and said, you know understand how this place
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works. he was with lauren hatchet at the time. jesse helms is my friend and, more importantly, that helms is my wife best friend and i'm, too old for divorce. what do you think would happen to the state of texas it's i went to north carolina and campaigned against jesse helms? he would have asked to hide and so many not i will be opening a new franchise. there's a sublime part that i think many of us missed today, that you had politicians of great passions, great verve, but at the end of the day, they talked about families, they talk about friendship, we talked about what is good for the country. i wanted to say that, because i was one of the
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great lessons that i have learned. working in the united states senate for holmes a lot. it's one of the lessons that i think those of us that work at the va share. we share that vision. this is one place where we need to put aside partisan divisions and work well and for those that have borne the battle. what was your question? >> quickly -- how can we help? >> we can, help not just by saying thank you for your service. you can help by doing things like supporting fish or house, you can do things like support and volunteering at a vet center. you can do things by paying attention to what's going on in the communities.
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my wife grew up in north carolina, sitting underneath fort bragg, 90 minutes away from cap. we spent a lot of time with a wonderful organization. every week they're out, finding veterans that are homeless in our community. that's the kind of thing that we can all the. the other thing that i would recommend, and it is not something that you can manifest materially. it is to ensure that every day, when you read the headlines, you just think that there is a greater purpose out there, that no matter what
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is going on this country has always endured when you see somebody recognized as having served, to strike up a conversation. the stock. that's the important thing. >> this concludes our program. thanks for coming, and thank you secretary for your words today.[applause] [inaudible conversations] a half
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hours. >> good morning, everyone. >> good morning, everyone. between the majority and minority i would ask for unanimous consent for the house members who are with us today, who are not members of the committee, that they be


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