The White House released this transcript of the remarks President Obama made at the signing of the Clay Hunt SAV act (presented here unedited)
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. On
behalf of Michelle and myself, welcome to the White House. And thank
you, Jake, for a moving tribute to your friend and your brother in
arms. I think it’s clear that Clay Hunt lives
on in you -- in your devotion to his memory and your commitment to our
country. So, Jake, on behalf of all of us -- but especially, I think,
on behalf of Clay’s family and all his friends and fellow veterans who
loved him, too -- thanks for your extraordinary
Today, we honor a young
man who isn't here, but should be here. Clay Hunt was a proud Texan.
As a boy, I understand, he collected turtles -- which was ironic for a
kid who, by all accounts, never sat still. (Laughter.)
He loved the outdoors, he knew every inch of his grandparents’ ranch,
where he fished and hunted all year long. A decorated Marine, he served
with distinction in Iraq and Afghanistan. He suffered physical
injuries that healed, and he suffered invisible wounds
that stayed with him. And, by all accounts, he was selfless and he was
brave. And when he died in 2011, it was a heartbreaking loss for his
family, his fellow Marines, and our nation. Because Clay had already
done a great deal of good in the world -- and
the truth is, he was just getting started.
So we’re here today to
pick up where Clay left off. The best way to honor this young man who
should be here is to make sure that more veterans like him are here for
all the years to come and able to make extraordinary
contributions, building on what they’ve already done for our safety and
Clay was a passionate
advocate for veterans. And now, more than ever, that’s something we’re
all called to be. After 13 years, our combat mission in Afghanistan is
over, and a new generation of veterans is coming
home. And like Clay, they are talented and they are ready to roll up
their sleeves and begin the next chapter of their lives -- starting
companies, going back to school, reentering the workforce, raising
families, becoming leaders in every field. And whether
they found a new path or are just starting out on their new civilian
life, one thing is certain: Every single veteran in America has
something extraordinary to give to this country -- every single one.
And at the same time, too
many of our troops and veterans are still struggling. They’re
recovering from injuries. They’re mourning fallen comrades. They’re
trying to reconnect with family and friends who can
never fully understand what they went through in war theater. For many
of them, the war goes on -- in the flashbacks that come rushing
forward, in the nightmares that don’t go away.
And that tension between
then and now -- that struggle to make the transition from war to home --
is one that Clay Hunt knew all too well. In Iraq and Afghanistan, he
lost good friends. After one buddy died, Clay
slept in his empty bunk for a while, to stay close just a little
longer. A few weeks later, another friend was fatally shot right in
front of him. There was nothing Clay could do to save him, but he was
still wracked with grief and guilt. And when he got
home, he found it hard to sleep and hard to go football games, or
anywhere that was loud or crowded.
Now, part of what made him
remarkable was he was able to name the problem; he understood it. Like
many of our troops and veterans, Clay had post-traumatic stress. And
as a country, we’ve been doing more to help
our troops and veterans deal with injuries like post-traumatic stress.
We’re been doing more awareness and more outreach, and more counselors
have been put in place to improve access to care. We’ve been doing more
research into prevention and treatment.
And we’ve been saying loud and clear to anyone out there who’s hurting
-- it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help, it’s a sign of strength.
And Clay Hunt was strong
that way. He asked for help. In fact, he did everything that we urge
people with post-traumatic stress to do. He reached out to his family,
they embraced him with love. He opened up
to other veterans, and they were there for him, too. He sought
treatment -- not once, but repeatedly. And he channeled his stress into
service. As part of Team Rubicon, as Jake described, he went to Haiti
after the earthquake to help families rebuild.
He refurbished bikes for injured veterans so they could join wounded
warrior rides. He even appeared in a public service announcement,
encouraging veterans having a tough time to reach out for help --
because he knew that even though you can’t see it, post-traumatic
stress is an injury just like any other, and the stigma has to end.
And Clay received care
through the VA, but he struggled to get the right medication and the
right disability rating. And by the time the severity of his condition
was recognized, it was too late, and Clay had taken
his life just weeks before. And he was 28 years old.
Amid unimaginable grief,
Clay’s family, Jake and his fellow veterans made it their mission to
spare any more families the pain they endured. So they shared Clay’s
story far and wide. And they reached out to members
of Congress, and they lobbied and they testified, and made personal
And thanks to their
tireless efforts -- and we are particularly grateful to Clay’s family
being able to transform grief into action -- today I will sign the Clay
Hunt SAV Act into law. And SAV stands for Suicide
Prevention for American Veterans. It helps fill critical gaps in
serving veterans with post-traumatic stress and other illnesses. It
increases peer support and outreach to servicemembers transitioning to
civilian life. It recruits talented psychiatry students
to work at the VA after graduation. It makes it easier for veterans to
find the care they need when they need it. And it includes strict
accountability measures so we can track and continually improve these
efforts as we learn more.
Now, this law is not a
complete solution. We’ve still got a lot more work to do. Our
Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Bob McDonald, is here and is doing a
terrific job pushing reforms to get our veterans the care
that they deserve. But one of the messages I want to make sure to
deliver today -- and I know that the First Lady and Jill Biden and
others have been delivering this continually through their Joining
Forces effort -- this is not just a job for government.
Every community, every American, can reach out and do more with and for
our veterans. This has to be a national mission. As a nation, we
should not be satisfied -- will not be satisfied -- until every man and
woman in uniform, every veteran, gets the help
that they need to stay strong and healthy.
And this law will not
bring Clay back, as much as we wish it would. But the reforms that it
puts in place would have helped. And they’ll help others who are going
through the same challenging process that he went
through. So this is a good day, and we pay tribute to everyone who
helped to make it possible.
We want to thank Clay’s
family, especially his mom and stepfather, Susan and Richard Selke; his
father and stepmother, Stacy and Dianne Hunt. You guys never stopped
fighting for Clay -- and for all the families
who have lost sons and daughters, as well. And as a Commander-in-Chief
and as a father, I can’t think of a more beautiful and special way to
honor your son. So we thank you so much. (Applause.)
We want to thank Jake and
all those who served with Clay, who protected him and loved him like a
brother, and all the veterans service organizations that fought for this
law and who advocated so passionately for
those who have served. We thank all the military families who have
lost a loved one, families here today who channeled their grief into
helping others. They believe, as we all do, that we have to end this
tragedy of suicide among our troops and veterans.
I want to thank the
members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, who worked to get this
done. I want to give a special acknowledgement to somebody who knows a
little bit about service, Senator John McCain. (Applause.)
Dick Blumenthal, we’re grateful for your efforts. Representative Jeff
Miller. My home girl from the Chicago area -- (laughter) -- Tammy
Duckworth. Couldn’t be prouder of her. (Applause.) And, Tim Walz,
thank you so much for the great work. (Applause.)
And just to be clear about
the bipartisanship here, this is one of those areas where we can’t have
an argument. Clay’s parents are Texas Republicans. (Laughter.) I
mean, that’s not just run-of-the-mill Republican.
(Laughter.) And they worked with this entire spectrum --
conservatives, liberals. And that’s just a reminder of what we can
accomplish when we take a break from the partisan bickering that so
often dominates this town, and focus on what really matters to
the American people.
I wish I had gotten a
chance to know Clay. But, in a way, I feel that I do, because there are
a lot of incredible men and women all across this country who, like
Clay, just love their country and want to serve.
Michelle and I have had a chance to meet so many of them, and it’s such
an incredible privilege.
I think of the soldiers I
sat down with at Fort Bliss a few years ago, and they told me they were
proud to serve but struggled with challenges like post-traumatic
stress. They told me about the challenges they
had in getting support and treatment, and managing their medications,
staying strong for their families and their fellow soldiers -- and, most
of all, the challenge of asking for help, which is hard to do for folks
who are used to helping others.
I think of Staff Sergeant
Ty Carter, whom I awarded the Medal of Honor. He survived an
unimaginable battle in Afghanistan and carried a badly wounded comrade
to safety. As tough as they come. But he, too, acknowledged
before the ceremony, and talked about it publicly, his struggles with
post-traumatic stress. At first, he resisted even seeking help, but
eventually he reached out for the care that he needed. Today, he’s
transitioning to civilian life. He started his own
business, and he travels across the country as an advocate, helping
veterans and other Americans turn their struggles into a source of
I think of the college
student who recently wrote me a letter on Christmas Day. This is as
tough a letter as I’ve received since I’ve been President. She talked
about her father, who’s a retired Marine, and told
me about how her dad used to love to hunt and fish, and spend time with
her and her little brother. But gripped with post-traumatic stress, he
became less and less like himself, and withdrew from the family. And
yet, despite these struggles, she wrote, “I
knew that my dad was still in there somewhere…He is still my father.
And I am still his little girl.” And she was writing, she said, to ask
for help -- help her father find his way back -- “not for my family, Mr.
President,” she said. “I’m asking you to
help the others” -- other families like hers. And she said, “Don’t
forget about them.”
And that’s really what
today is about: Don’t forget. So today we say again -- to every person
in uniform, to every veteran who has ever served -- we thank you for
your service. We honor your sacrifice. But sometimes
talk is cheap. And sometimes, particularly at a time when we’ve got an
all-volunteer force and so often we can celebrate them at a ball game,
but too many are insulated from the impacts, we got to also act. We
can’t just talk.
So we’re ready to help you
begin the next chapter of your lives. And if you are hurting, know
this: You are not forgotten. You are not alone. You are never alone.
We are here for you. America is here for you
-- all of us. And we will not stop doing everything in our power to
get you the care and support you need to stay strong and keep serving
this country we love. We need you. We need you. You make our country
So I thank all of you. God bless our troops, our veterans, our military families. God bless the United States of America.
And with that, I want
Michelle and Clay’s family and our other guests to join us on stage so I
can sign the Clay Hunt SAV Act into law. (Applause.)