Though unable to attend in person, President Barack Obama delivered a taped video address to delegates to the 94th American Legion National Convention in Indianapolis on Aug. 28. In it, the president thanked the Legion for its commitment to veterans and said caring for those veterans needs to remain one of the country's top priorities.
"Today, every American can be proud that the United States is safer, stronger and more respected in the world," Obama said. "Even as we end today's wars, we need to keep upholding that sacred trust to take care of you, our veterans, as well as you've taken care of us.
"I'm proud of what we've achieved together. Historic increases in the VA budget. Advanced appropriations to protect veterans health care. New support for our wounded warriors and their caregivers. New commitments to tackle the claims backlog. Confront the epidemic of suicide among our troops and veterans. And end the tragedy of homelessness among veterans. And for all you Vietnam veterans, we secured billions of dollars in disability pay for your exposure to Agent Orange."
That care needs to continue for the newest generation of veterans, the president said.
"Now, as our newest veterans come home, we have an obligation to help them realize the American dream they fought to protect," Obama said. "And so we're giving our departing servicemembers more help as they prepare for our civilian careers. We've made the Post-9/11 GI Bill a priority, and we're pulling out all the stops to help our veterans find jobs – including more than 125,000 jobs for veterans and their spouses... through our Joining Forces initiative – because no one who has fought for America should have to fight to find a job in America."
Master of ceremonies J.R. Martinez – who suffered severe burns over 34 percent of his body when his Humvee hit a land mine in Iraq in March of 2003 and later gained fame as a motivational speaker and for winning "Dancing with the Stars" in 2011 – received a warm reception from the audience as he opened the national convention.
"There are two things the military taught me to do," Martinez said. "It taught how to adapt and overcome, and it taught me how life will give you the tools you need in order to be able to do those two things. That in the moments when the rest of the world is panicking, when your enemy is potentially panicking – that's the moment when you adapt and you overcome and you complete the mission."
Martinez told his inspiring story about coming back from his injuries to use his fame as a way to spread the word about military service, as well as to motivate the men and women performing it and perhaps going through the same situation he once went through.
"By doing things I found what I believe is my real purpose in life," he said. "I wanted to be able to share, to use my platform to be able to educate not only other servicemembers and their spouses, their family members, their friends, but people in the country... on who we are, what we're about, what we do every single day."
Legionnaires also heard from Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, U.S. Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) and Maj. Gen R. Martin Umbarger, adjutant general of the Indiana National Guard.