Obama Thanks Wounded Vets at Opening of New Memorial

WASHINGTON - Delivering a somber speech at the opening of the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, President Obama expressed gratitude, recounted the struggles of wounded vets' long recoveries, and said the United States has not always done enough to care for its veterans returning from war.

"With this memorial we commemorate, for the first time, two battles our disabled veterans have fought: The battle over there and the battle here at home," the president said, referring to the long recoveries of American soldiers seriously wounded in fighting wars overseas.

Obama called on Americans to welcome veterans home with thanks and dignity.

The president also said the memorial reminds America not to "rush into war" and to give soldiers the "strategy" they need to succeed.

(Credit: Molly Riley/AP Photo)

The memorial, which opened today, is National Mall's first monument specifically to veterans wounded in combat. It joins monuments to veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam war.

The president admonished Americans to thank veterans and not to turn away from the injuries they sustained serving in the U.S. military.

"If you're an American and you see a veteran, maybe with a prosthetic arm or leg, maybe burns on their face, don't ever look away. Do not turn away," Obama said. "You go up and you reach out to shake their hand and you look them in the eye and you say those words every veteran should hear all the time: Welcome home, thank you, we need you more than ever, you helped us stay strong, you helped us stay free. Every wounded warrior, every disabled veteran thank you."

Veterans' health care has drawn growing attention as more Americans return home from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering physical injuries and the psychological and emotional scars of post-traumatic stress disorder. This year's scandal over Veterans Administration health care has driven the issue further into the national conversation.

Obama expressed admiration for veterans who have struggled "through years of recovery and surgeries and rehab, learning the simple things all over again - how to button a shirt or how to write your name, in some cases how to talk or how to walk, and how when you've stumbled, when you've fallen, you've picked yourselves up and carried on and never given up."