Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch:
Thank you, Assistant Attorney General [Lee] Lofthus, for that kind introduction, for your outstanding leadership of the Justice Management Division and for the work that you and your colleagues have done to organize this important ceremony. I also want to recognize Tiffany Carter from the department’s Criminal Division for honoring us with her performance of the national anthem: thank you, Tiffany, for helping to make this event so special. And finally, I’d like to thank all of the distinguished veterans who have joined us today – along with your colleagues and comrades across the country and around the world – for your immeasurable sacrifice and ongoing service. It is a privilege to stand with so many men and women dedicated to advancing the mission of this department, upholding the ideals of your professions and safeguarding the people of this nation. And it is an honor today to reflect on the proud history of everyone who has served this country in uniform and who has fought to make the United States the exceptional homeland that it is.
The individuals of our armed forces occupy a singular place in the pantheon of American heroes. When America was under threat, you rose to serve. When our freedoms were in danger, you sought to help. And when our peace was at stake, you secured our future. From the shores of Normandy to the streets of Seoul; from the jungles of Vietnam to the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan, our women and men in uniform have never failed to answer the call of their country. You prepare and you defend. You are faithful to your country above yourself. And you aim high and dare greatly, in the service of our mission. You fought not for personal gain or private reward. You were not content to stay out of harm’s way. You sacrificed to give meaning to the values we cherish. You led the way to prolong the life of this nation. And you served to protect the promise of our founding: of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Writ large, stirring words for stirring acts of sacrifice. For every individual who served, the sacrifice was real and personal. You ran into harm’s way – for us. You faced dangers you had never imagined – for us. And you took American values and American courage to distant shores and stood between peoples of distant lands and tyranny. Many of those whom you protected, most of those whom you saved, will never know your names – but we do and we shall never forget. The sacrifices you embraced were also borne by every military family, by everyone who watched a son or daughter, a parent or a spouse, head off to make the world safe and held their fears close to their heart. They also served, who stayed behind and endured. I still remember watching my uncles, then cousins and finally my brother go off to serve their country, in Vietnam and beyond and realizing that all our lives were forever changed. I remember the fear, the uncertainty as well as the pride and then the ultimate joy when they were returned safely to us.
The United States owes you an extraordinary debt of gratitude. But even more than our thanks, we owe you the kind of faithful service and unwavering devotion that you have always given us. We have a moral responsibility to assist our men and women in uniform not only when you’re on the front lines, but also when you return to the home front. We have a national obligation to make sure that you and your families are able to enjoy the rights and freedoms for which you so valiantly fought. And we have an enduring duty to stand with you, through good times and hard challenges, to offer you our help, our guidance and our unwavering support.
I want you to know that the Department of Justice is dedicated to delivering on that promise. Through the tireless efforts of our Civil Rights Division, led by Vanita Gupta, we are working to protect service members’ civilian employment rights by enforcing the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. We are bolstering the ability of our service members to vote by enforcing the Uniformed and Overseas Citizen Absentee Voting Act. And we are safeguarding our veterans’ financial security through the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, as well as through our continuing efforts to confront and combat consumer-related fraud that targets active-duty, guard and reserve service members and veterans.
In the last few months alone, those actions have led to meaningful results. In May, a San Diego storage company agreed to pay $170,000 to settle allegations that it unlawfully sold service members’ belongings. In June, thanks to an action by this department against Navient Corp., nearly 78,000 service members began receiving over $60 million in compensation for excess interest they were asked to pay on their student loans. And in September, the Department of Justice announced that more than 2,400 service members and their co-borrowers were eligible to receive over $311 million of foreclosure-related compensation under the department’s settlements with five of the nation’s largest mortgage services providers. These examples demonstrate this department’s strongly-held belief that no one who has served this country should ever be disserved by its institutions. It’s the least we can do to thank and support the remarkable individuals who have given so much of themselves for the good of our country.
As we carry that work into the future, the Department of Justice will continue to build upon existing efforts, to rely on our veterans on staff and to do our part to ensure that every veteran is supported and equipped for advancement and success. That’s why, earlier this year, we launched the Service Members and Veterans Initiative under the leadership of our outstanding Associate Attorney General, Stuart Delery. The initiative, which is designed to expand and coordinate the department’s enforcement, outreach and training efforts on behalf of service members, veterans and their families, represents an innovative and wide-ranging new approach. And we hope that, over time, these efforts will help us add to the 28,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who already form the backbone of this department’s legendary workforce.
Every one of you is essential to the Justice Department’s mission. You are emblematic of our commitment to our country. And you are a model of public service to which every member of this department aspires. As veterans of our armed forces, you know what it means to put service before self. You have unparalleled experience as members of teams operating under the toughest conditions. And you exude the kind of leadership that is not conferred, but earned. Those qualities and skills have made you integral to the work of this department and enabled you to lead the way on some of the most important and pressing issues of our time – from voting rights to LGBT equality; from civil rights to criminal justice reform; and from national security and cybersecurity to our ongoing effort to protect our most vulnerable citizens. Across all of these fields and many others, your work has expanded the circle of opportunity for individuals across the country. Your contributions have promoted the rights to which all Americans are entitled. And your efforts have extended the story of your extraordinary service.
And so today, in the midst of your work, we pause to thank you with all our hearts. We commemorate all those who came home as well as those who lie in peace on distant shores. We recommit ourselves to serving you as well as you have served us. And we rededicate ourselves to preserving the ideals symbolized by the flag under which you continue to serve: equality, opportunity and justice for all.
Thank you, once again, for all that you do – and please keep up the great work.