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THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
Immediate Release July 10, 2000
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT,
SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS TOGO WEST,
AND DEPUTY SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS HERSHEL GOBER
THE SOUTH PORTICO
12:26 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. I want to say a few words in a moment
about Togo West and Hershel Gober, and the Department of Veterans Affairs
and its mission. But first, I'd like to make one brief announcement.
Since March, I have asked Congress to establish a home heating oil
reserve in the Northeast to reduce the chance that future shortages will
hurt consumers, as they did last winter. Congress recently, again, has
failed to act, and time is running out. Winter may seem far off on this hot
day, but if we don't do something now, reserve stocks of heating oil may
not be in place before the cold weather comes.
That's why today, I am taking action to establish a home heating oil
reserve to help families avoid higher energy costs this winter. First, I'm
directing Secretary Richardson to exchange crude oil from the Strategic
Petroleum Reserve for two million barrels of home heating oil to store in
Second, we're taking steps to establish this reserve on a permanent
basis. The action I take today will leave us far better prepared to face
the winter months. But it does not relieve Congress of the responsibility
to act. So I renew my call to Congress: Please, provide the authority so
we can tap into this new home heating oil reserve when we need it. Take up
my energy budget initiatives and the tax incentives. Pass comprehensive
electricity restructuring. Reauthorize the strategic petroleum reserve.
These are things Congress can do right now to build a better, safer,
more secure and more affordable energy future. I ask them again to do
their part to increase our energy supply, protect the environment, increase
energy conservation and keep our economy strong.
This morning, I accepted the decision of Togo West to step down as
Secretary of Veterans Affairs by month's end, after more than two years of
effective leadership on behalf of America's our 25 million veterans and
Every day, in every way, Togo West has given his all to make sure
America does right by our men and women who have served us in uniform. As
Secretary of the Army at the beginning of our administration, Togo West was
known as a "soldier's Secretary." His leadership helped make the Army part
of the best-trained, best-equipped, most potent fighting force in the
world. He took special care to make sure that America took good care of
our Army families. And he brought that same sense of purpose to the
Department of Veterans Affairs.
Under his leadership, the VA has begun to confront some long-neglected
problems head on -- reaching out to more than 400,000 veterans who were
exposed to Agent Orange; pressing for answers to the Gulf War Syndrome and
proper care for those who suffer from it; beginning the process of building
five new national cemeteries, the most since the Civil War; and making a
special effort to bring homeless veterans back into the society they did so
much to defend.
His leadership and devotion to our veterans helped improve lives and
make this country a better place. And on behalf of all Americans, Togo, I
want to thank you for more than a quarter century of service and selfless
devotion to our nation.
To carry forward the vital work of the Department of Veterans Affairs,
I turn to one who knows the work and the mission of the VA as well or
better than anyone ever has, Deputy Secretary Hershel Gober. You all know
we've been friends for many years. He did a suburb job as the State
Director of Veterans Affairs in Arkansas when I served as Governor. He did
a superb job as Acting Director between the tenures of Secretary Jesse
Brown and Togo West. There are few people in our country who have ever
been as prepared for a job as Hershel Gober is for this one.
He has an ear for the needs of our veterans because he has the heart
of a solider. A veteran of both the Army and the Marine Corps, Hershel
Gober served two terms in Vietnam, earning the Purple Heart, the Bronze
Star, and the Soldier's Medal. A few years ago, I was honored that he
agreed to head a delegation back to Vietnam to seek the fullest possible
accounting of our men and women still missing in uniform.
Hershel has already made his mark on the critical issue of veterans'
health care. Early in our administration, he came to me and recommended
that we look for ways to bring health care closer to the veterans to need
it. Since then, we've opened more than 200 out-patient clinics all across
America, and have more planned this year. That's one of the big reasons we
were able to treat -- listen to this -- 400,000 more veterans last year
than we did the year before.
Hershel Gober has been a strong partner for both Secretary Brown and
Secretary West. He will serve in a great tradition, and I thank him for
agreeing to do so. Now I'd like to ask them to say a few words, beginning
with Secretary West.
SECRETARY WEST: Thank you, Mr. President, and congratulations to you,
Hershel. I think Hershel is a fine choice for the job he's being asked to
I have been privileged to serve in all or part of each of the eight
years of this historic administration. My wife -- who's not here today --
she's in Santa Barbara, looking after an ill sister -- and I will cherish
the memory of every one of those years.
As President Clinton's Secretary of the Army, it was my privilege to
work with America's finest, our men and women in uniform, and the families
and civilians that support them. The power generated by the intelligence,
competence and dedication of America's soldiers, sailors, Marines, Air
Force personnel and Coast Guard personnel will remain in my memory always.
As Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the President enabled me to give life and
expression to his and the nation's gratitude for the service of her
veterans and the sacrifices of their families.
A nation is defined, as are people, by those who love her. Never has
a nation been better loved, never has a nation been better served, never
has love through service been more clearly expressed than in the fidelity
and patriotism of America's veterans.
In this next chapter of our lives, my wife and I will be eternally
grateful that we have had this opportunity to serve. We'll be forever
grateful for the leadership of this extraordinarily gifted President. And
we'll be forever grateful that we are part of this great nation.
With admiration and unbounded respect, I thank those who have worked
with me in the Department of Veterans Affairs and in the Department of
Defense -- especially Deputy Secretary Gober; I thank those who have
supported us in the Congress and in the Veterans service organizations; and
I especially thank my President for these eight glorious years.
Thank you all.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, bless you.
DEPUTY SECRETARY GOBER: Thank you, Mr. President, for the opportunity
and for the chance to say a few words.
First, I'd like to thank Secretary West for his -- I would like to
also thank Secretary West for his distinguished career and dedication to
his country, and wish him the very best in the future.
I want to assure you, Mr. President, and all the veterans of this
nation, that each morning when I get out of the bed I will be thinking
about what can I do for veterans today. And also, I'm very proud to have
actually have worked for you for 15 years.
The Clinton-Gore administration has a remarkable record of achievement
on veterans' issues. We have done much of what we set out to do. In fact,
Mr. President, you've kept all of your campaign promises. Every veteran in
America, honorably discharged, can be in a VA hospital today and receive
quality care. We now have over 1,200 locations where veterans can be
And, actually, Mr. President, since we came into office, we've put in
over 400 out-patient clinics. I know it's not a good policy to correct
you, but I want you to get credit for it.
THE PRESIDENT: You can always do that.
DEPUTY SECRETARY GOBER: We've done remarkable -- there is still much
to be done. We have to continue to fight for the men and women who serve
this country. And every day, if everyone out there would realize when you
get up and you see this great economy, you see this great freedom you have,
you see everything is going so great in this country, it's because of a
veteran, because veterans are willing to put their lives on the line.
You know, when I travel across the country -- and I know the President
has had this happen to him, too, because you sent me notes about it --
veterans come up and they say, thank you for what you're doing for us. And
I tell them, you don't owe me any thanks; how can I give you something or
do something for you that you have already earned.
And, Mr. President, I pledge that until the day we leave this office
that I will continue to represent you and to represent the veterans of
America. And I'm delighted to have this opportunity to serve once again.
Thank you, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
Q Mr. President, the Israeli government is falling apart. How is
Barak going to be able to negotiate a peace?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first, I think it's important to note that, as
the news reports this morning in Israel reflect, a solid majority of the
people want him to come and want him to pursue peace.
Look, if this were easy it would have been done a long time ago. This
is difficult. It is perhaps the most difficult of all the peace problems
in the world, certainly dealing with the most difficult issues of the whole
Middle East peace process, on which I have worked for nearly eight years
now. But both Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat have the vision,
the knowledge, the experience and the ability and the shear guts to do what
it takes, I think, to reach an agreement, and then to take it back to their
people and see if they can sell it.
And keep in mind, Prime Minister Barak has said that the people of
Israel will have their say on this. So this is really, I think, a matter
of trying to come to grips with the issues on the merits, asking whether
the price of peace is greater than the price of continued conflict, and all
the associated difficulties and heartbreaks and uncertainties and
insecurity that that carries.
And I'm going to do my best to help them. I admire both of them for
coming. It's not easy for either to come. But they have come because they
think that the price of not doing it is greater than the risk of going
forward. And I hope we'll have the thoughts and prayers and best wishes of
all Americans. It's going to be a difficult process. But the fact that
they're coming means that we still have a chance.
Q Mr. President, given the fact that these are the most difficult
issues, do you think you can do this in just eight days? And would you
consider delaying your trip or abandoning your trip to Japan?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, let me say, just because they're
difficult doesn't mean they're not understood. I mean, I would say the
answer to that would clearly be, no, if this were happening in 1993 or '94.
But an enormous amount of time and thought has gone into this. I think
both sides have a pretty clear idea of what the various options are.
And I don't want to set an artificial deadline for these talks. But I
think that they need to listen to each other, and I need to listen to them,
and we need to get right after it, because it's not as if we don't know
what's out there to be done. And this has been simmering on the stove for
some years now, and I think we understand generally what the options are
and we'll go there and go to work, do our very best.
END 12:40 P.M. EDT
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