Yesterday afternoon, President Obama signed legislation that takes two important steps to help fulfill our nation's obligations to our veterans and their families.
First, the new law offers extended care to a group of servicemembers who were based at Camp Lejeune with their families during a period when contaminated water caused major medical issues for a number of individuals.
Among those standing with the President at today's bill signing were Jerry Ensminger, a Marine Corps veteran who has been an advocate for affected families, and Mike Partain, who was born at Camp Lejuene and later developed male breast cancer. The bill the President signed was named after Janey Ensminger, the Master Sargeant's daughter who passed away from leukemia at age nine.
Second, the law prohibits protests at military funerals in the two hours immediately prior to and following a military funeral -- a measure, the President said, that will ensure that our servicemembers get laid to rest with "the utmost honor and respect."
President Obama upheld this bill as an example of the type of issue on which Republicans and Democrats can find common ground, and he pushed lawmakers to take action on other measures to aid veterans -- including his proposal for a Veterans Jobs Corps.
Remarks by the President at Signing of the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012
2:25 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I want to thank everybody who is here because they all did outstanding work to help us get this legislation completed.
As you know, I think all Americans feel we have a moral, sacred duty towards our men and women in uniform. They protect our freedom, and it’s our obligation to do right by them. This bill takes another important step in fulfilling that commitment.
I want to thank the members of Congress who helped to make this happen. It is going to have immediate impact. It is going to improve access to health care, streamline services in the VA. It expands support for veterans who are homeless.
There are two parts to the bill, though, that I especially want to highlight. First of all, this bill ends a decade-long struggle for those who serve at Camp Lejeune. Some of the veterans and their families who were based in Camp Lejeune in the years when the water was contaminated will now have access to extended medical care. And, sadly, this act alone will not bring back those we’ve lost, including Jane Ensminger, but it will honor their memory by making a real difference for those who are still suffering.
The second part of this bill that I want to highlight -- prohibit protesting within 300 feet of military funerals during the two hours before and two hours after a service. I supported this step as a senator. I am very pleased to be signing this bill into law. The graves of our veterans are hallowed ground. And obviously we all defend our Constitution and the First Amendment and free speech, but we also believe that when men and women die in the service of their country and are laid to rest, it should be done with the utmost honor and respect.
So I’m glad that Congress passed this bill and I hope that we can continue to do some more good bipartisan work in protecting our veterans. I’ve been advocating, for example, for a veterans job corps that could help provide additional opportunities for the men and women who are coming home as we’re winding down our operations in Afghanistan and having ended the war in Iraq. And so this is a good sign of a bipartisan spirit that I’m sure is going to carry through all the way to Election Day and beyond.
With that, I’m going to sign the bill. Make sure I sign the right place, though.
(The bill is signed.)
There you go. Congratulations, everybody. Good work. Thank you very much.
Q Mr. President, after the Wisconsin shooting, are you going to push for any further gun control measures?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, we’re still awaiting the outcome of a full investigation. Yesterday I had the chance to speak to both the Governor and the Mayor, as well as leaders of the Sikh community in Oak Creek. All of us are heartbroken by what’s happened. And I offered the thoughts and prayers not only of myself and Michelle but also for the country as a whole.
I think all of us recognize that these kinds of terrible, tragic events are happening with too much regularity for us not to do some soul-searching and to examine additional ways that we can reduce violence. And as I've already said, I think there are a lot of elements involved in it, and what I want to do is to bring together law enforcement, community leaders, faith leaders, elected officials of every level to see how we can make continued progress.
We don’t yet know fully what motivated this individual to carry out this terrible act. If it turns out, as some early reports indicate, that it may have been motivated in some way by the ethnicity of those who were attending the temple, I think the American people immediately recoil against those kinds of attitudes, and I think it will be very important for us to reaffirm once again that, in this country, regardless of what we look like, where we come from, who we worship, we are all one people, and we look after one another and we respect one another.
But as I said, the FBI is working with local officials and they’re still investigating what motivated this individual. And as we find out more, I suspect that not only the White House but others in Congress and at the local level will have more to say.
Thank you very much, everybody.
2:31 P.M. EDT