PRESIDENT OBAMA'S REMARKS | CARMEN'S STORY | OUR RECORD AND THE WORK AHEAD Watch President Obama's remarks in Atlanta, Georgia at 1:35pm ET.   What service means to Carmen McGinnis, a former Marine Carmen McGinnis, a former Marine who now helps other veterans as a staff member at DAV (Disabled American Veterans), sent the below message to the White House email list. Didn't get the email? Sign up for updates here . I knew I wanted to be a Marine by the time I was 16. Carmen McGinnis I was inspired by my uncle, who was a door gunner in Vietnam for two tours. He never really talked about it, but I always knew how proud he was to be a Marine. People told me that I couldn't or wouldn’t join — but that only made me more determined. So, on the afternoon of the day after my 17th birthday, I enlisted in the Marine Corps. That day happened to be September 11, 2001. I was deployed to southwest Afghanistan in 2004 and served as a radar repairman with ballistic missile defense. It was there, just outside of Kandahar, where I injured my back for the first time. Then, I was accepted into the competitive Marine Security Guard School and served as a guard at American embassies across the world — throughout that time, my back was injured again and again. I also acquired severe insomnia from shift work and survived a sexual assault that made me feel isolated. These injuries left me in constant pain. Along with experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, I endured some of the darkest times in my life. But soon, I found an opportunity that gave me hope. I took a position at DAV (Disabled American Veterans), an organization that empowers disabled veterans and their families to lead their lives with the full range of benefits available to them. Today, I serve as a National Service Officer, where I get to draw on my own experiences to help other disabled veterans with their recovery, through compassion and empathy. Carmen McGinnis with family In this work, I have seen firsthand how President Obama's efforts to serve veterans have made an impact. I appreciate his actions to ensure that the backlog of disability claims and appeals gets addressed. And I personally saw the number of mental health professionals increase in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Addressing mental health for veterans still needs work, but it's better than it was. That's why I'm proud to welcome President Obama at the Disabled Veterans Convention today in Atlanta, Georgia, where he'll speak about the progress we've made for veterans and the ways we can continue expanding opportunities for our service members, veterans, and their families. I hope you'll watch along with me at 1:35 pm Eastern. I feel that I've survived what I've survived for a reason: to learn that my real strength comes from helping others. I absolutely love that I get to wake up every day and help change people's lives. Not many people can say that. Thanks for listening, Carmen Carmen McGinnis National Area Supervisor at DAV Denver, Colorado   Our record on serving veterans and the work ahead President Barack Obama shakes hands with troops at Camp Pendleton, Calif., August 7, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) Over the past seven and a half years, the President has maintained a steadfast commitment to serve our nation’s veterans.  From delivering more health care than ever before, to providing veterans the benefits they have earned in a timely way, to expanding cutting edge research in areas like Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), to helping veterans get the education and jobs they need to succeed, the Administration has an indisputable record of support for our veterans. Today, the President will announce two new milestones in this effort: Since launching a nationwide strategy in 2010 to prevent and end homelessness, the Administration has worked with state and local partners to cut veteran homelessness nearly in half. As part of the President’s Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI), 500,000 veterans have voluntarily donated their health data to the future of science and medicine through the VA’s Million Veteran Program (MVP), marking a critical halfway point to the goal of signing up one million veterans. Moving forward, the President and the entire Administration will keep fighting in five core areas of service to our nation’s veterans. 1. Health care An essential part of this commitment is ensuring veterans receive the health care they need, when they need it. VA continues to make progress in this effort, increasing access to care and ensuring veterans are satisfied with their care. VA has dramatically increased access to care for our veterans, completing approximately 57.84 million appointments from June 2015 through May 2016, and completing nearly 97% of the appointments within 30 days. VA has increased its total clinical work by 10% over the last two years. That translates into roughly 20 million more hours spent providing care for veterans. 90% of veterans surveyed are either “satisfied” or “completely satisfied” with the timeliness of their care. But there's still more work to be done. Here are just a few ways the VA continues to execute on a number of strategies to increase access to care: Expanding care in the community – VA continues to increase options for care for veterans, authorizing 3.2 million instances of care in the community from June 2015 through May 2016, 7% more than the prior year. In addition, VA put forward a comprehensive plan last October to rationalize its various care in the community programs, creating a single program that is easy to understand, simple to administer, and meets the needs of veterans, community providers, and VA staff. Increasing clinic hours – Over the last 2 years, VA has increased total clinical work by 10%, which translates into roughly 20 million more hours of care for veterans. Getting veterans off wait lists – VA has hosted two National Access Stand Down events at all VA Medical Centers, with the goal of addressing urgent health care needs and getting veterans off of waiting lists. Making enrollment easier – In June 2016, VA released a new digital health care application, making it easier for veterans to enroll in VA health care. Read more . 2. Benefits Three and a half years ago, nearly 610,000 veterans disability claims were stuck in a backlog waiting for longer than 125 days, and the VA did not have the capacity to keep up with an increasing number of claims. But by transforming internal processes and putting in place a new electronic system to move beyond the archaic paper-based system that was in place, VA has made extraordinary progress. Take a look: VA has reduced the disability compensation claims backlog by nearly 90% over the last three and a half years, taking the number from a high of over 610,000 to under 80,000 today. A combination of increased productivity and modernized technology has allowed the VA to process a record-breaking 1.4 million claims in the last fiscal year alone. Veterans with a pending claim are waiting, on average, 192 days less for a claim decision, from a peak of 282 days in March 2013 to 90 days today. VA has put forward an aggressive plan to modernize the appeals process, ensuring that the vast majority of veterans who, today, are waiting an average of at least three years on their appeals, can have a clear path forward within one year. The VA has taken what steps it can to improve the current claims appeals process, including introducing a new tool to improve internal processing. But what is needed is broad reform, and the problem is only going to get worse until Congress acts. That is why the President is reiterating his call for comprehensive legislative modernization of the appeals process. Read more. 3. Homelessness Ending veteran homelessness is a national imperative. And beginning in 2010 with the release of Opening Doors, the nation’s first-ever strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness, the Administration has dedicated itself to this goal. Here's the progress we've made: Overall veteran homelessness has decreased by 47% since 2010, and unsheltered homelessness has decreased by 56%. Cities and states across the country – from the Commonwealth of Virginia and the State of Connecticut, to the cities of New Orleans and Houston – have announced that they have put an end to veteran homelessness. The First Lady and Dr. Biden have launched the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, with over 800 city and county officials signing on to end veteran homelessness. The Administration is also announcing that, later this fall, the First Lady will be holding an event with local officials, non-profits, federal partners, private sector partners, advocates, and veterans to celebrate this extraordinary progress, announce additional milestones in the fight to end veteran homelessness, and underscore the federal, state and local partnerships that have been essential to our success, as a blueprint for this critical work to continue in coming years. Read more. 4. Economic Opportunity When veterans return home from their service to our country, we must ensure they have the opportunities and resources they need to succeed. The Administration continues to work to make sure veterans are provided opportunities to fulfill the American dream. Take a look: •    The veteran unemployment rate has now dropped to 4.2%, compared to a high of 9.9% in January 2011. •    The unemployment rate for Post-9/11 veterans is 4.4% today, down from a high of 15.2% in January 2011. •    Since the launch of the Joining Forces initiative in 2011, more than 1.2 million veterans and military spouses have been trained or hired.   •    In May 2016, the First Lady announced a commitment of an additional 170,000 new hiring and training commitments from 50 companies in the telecommunications, aerospace, and tech sectors over the next five years. Read more. 5. Education The President has also made it a priority to ensure veterans and their families have access to the high-quality education they need to succeed. And that starts with the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Since its inception in 2009, the Post-9/11 GI Bill has provided $65.2 billion in education benefits to over 1.6 million individuals.  All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories are now providing recently transitioning veterans and their dependents with in-state tuition rates at public institutions of higher learning. The GI Bill Comparison Tool has received over 3.2 million unique page views with over one million schools searched since it was launched in 2014. The GI Bill Comparison helps estimate GI Bill benefits, research certain school attributes, and compare educational institutions. Read more.

An American president has not traveled to Cuba in almost 90 years. But on March 20, President Obama will set foot on the island country that's only 90 miles off the coast of Florida. The visit is a historic milestone after more than a year of progress from the day in December of 2014 when the President first announced he was abandoning a failed, Cold War-era approach to Cuba in favor of a new course to normalize relations. Since then, we've restored non-stop flights between our two countries. We’ve helped facilitate more people-to-people interaction and commercial enterprise. We've allowed U.S. dollars to be used in more financial transactions with Cuba. And today, we're restoring direct mail for the first time in 50 years.  The first flight carrying that first batch of U.S. direct mail to Cuba took off yesterday — a development that may please Ileana Yarza, a 76-year-old letter writer in Cuba who has been waiting for the President to visit for years. “I think there are not many Cubans so eager as I to meet you in person,” she wrote on February 18. “Not as an important American personality, but as a charming president whose open smile wins hearts.” Yesterday's flight carried a personal response from President Obama to Ileana, which will reach the island before he touches down in Havana on Sunday. View Ileana's letter and the President's response here:  Mr President,   I heard last night by telesur — not the Cuban broadcast news — that you will visit Havana in March. I could not be happier to hear this.    An American president finally taking this so much needed step, the second best one after your open admittance that the over half a century cruel embargo on this lovely, enduring and resilient little island just did not work. We Cubans believe it's a black page on American history and geopolitics. Very sorry to say this…   Dear President Obama: I've followed your political career since you were running for office the first time. Then I drank to your victory at/with the CNBC Havana office that glorious night. I also celebrated your second term election with friends at home. I wish there would be a third, perhaps one day…   I've written you many times introducing myself. Also I have invited you to a cup of Cuban coffee at my place in Vedado, if and when you would finally come.   Please, please, do visit me. Give this 76 year old Cuban lady the gift of meeting you personally. I think there are not many Cubans so eager as I to meet you in person not as an important American personality but as a charming president whose open smile wins hearts.    Please understand I very much look forward to it.    I would also love for you to come with your wonderful, lovely wife.    God bless you son, also bless your family.    Ileana R. Yarza   And check out President Obama's response:   Dear Ileana:   Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate your support over the years, and I hope this note — which will reach you by way of the first direct mail flight between the United States and Cuba in over 50 years — serves as a reminder of a bright new chapter in the relationship between our two nations.    I am looking forward to visiting Havana to foster this relationship and highlight our shared values — and, hopefully, I will have time to enjoy a cup of Cuban coffee.    Sincerely,   Barack Obama   The types of mail that customers in the United States can send to Cuba include First-Class Mail International items, First-Class Package International Service items, Priority Mail International Flat Rate Envelopes and Priority Mail International Small Flat Rate Priced Boxes. Employees at the United States Postal Service shared in a moment of excitement as they prepared to send the letter on its way. “I've worked for the Postal Service for 27 years, and this has been my goal for 26 years,” one employee shared. “So this is a pretty big day for me.”  To learn more about the President's Cuba policy and why he's headed down to Havana, check out what the President's Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes has to say about it here .

AmeriCorps members assemble energy kits in Baltimore, MD, June 12, 2015. (Photo courtesy of the Corporation for National and Community Service) The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) is committed to improving the lives of our fellow citizens through our signature AmeriCorps and Senior Corps programs. Last Friday, I joined local leaders and national service members and volunteers for a combined service project and grant announcement in Baltimore to announce $4.4 million in new investments to expand our programs in the city. The new funds will support more than 630 additional AmeriCorps members and Senior Corps volunteers during the coming year — including 105 who will begin their service this summer — to tutor and mentor youth, build and repair homes, mentor ex-prisoners and youth offenders, clean neighborhoods, and help connect low-income communities to healthy food. read more

Watch on YouTube This morning at the White House, President Obama joined former President Bill Clinton in celebrating the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps, and welcoming some of the national service program's newest members. Across the country today, thousands of people took the pledge to be AmeriCorps members. Since AmeriCorps' inception in 1994, 900,000 Americans have served in the program and have committed 1.2 billion hours of service. In his remarks , President Obama noted how today's event echoed “back to that day in 1994, when President Clinton swore in that first class of AmeriCorps members right here at the White House.” read more

Today, the Corporation for National and Community Service – the federal agency responsible for service and volunteering activities – is announcing over $205 million in new grants to AmeriCorps programs. These funds will support over 280 organizations across the country engaged in national service, including Teach for America, Habitat for Humanity, the American Red Cross, Catholic Charities, and many others. These grants will support more than 43,000 AmeriCorps members tackling critical issues across our country, including improving education, performing disaster recovery, supporting environmental stewardship, creating economic opportunity, and supporting veterans and military families.

One of my most treasured possessions, which hangs in my office in the West Wing of the White House, is a letter from the late Senator Ted Kennedy, sent during the immigration debate of 2007. He sent a lot of them, thanking and encouraging those of us who were fighting for reform after a difficult loss. He had a way of reminding you that the opportunity to fight for something meaningful was a gift, and to take joy in doing work that serves others. Senator Kennedy was a giant of the Senate who devoted his entire life to serving his country. The very last time I saw him was in the hallway in the West Wing, five years ago today, as he made his way to visit with President Obama who was about to sign the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. National service was one of the great causes of his life, one which truly exemplifies the ideals that he lived every day of his nearly 50 years in the Senate.

In honor of Martin Luther King Day, President Barack Obama serves lunch in the dining room at So Others Might Eat, a soup kitchen in Washington January 18, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated his life to improving the world in which he lived—and challenged the rest of us to do the same. He not only championed the equal rights but also equal access to economic opportunity for all Americans. This year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service will honor his legacy as hundreds of thousands of Americans pay tribute by serving their communities on Monday, January 20. We know there is a great deal we can do to help our cities and neighborhoods thrive, and as President Obama said last week , “the American people… are ready and willing to pitch in and help.” MLK Day exemplifies this spirit as individuals and families around the country come together on this day every year to strengthen their communities through service and volunteering. Through their deeds, they demonstrate that service can accelerate progress on our most pressing priorities.

In his 1989 Inaugural Address, when President George H.W. Bush uttered the words “a thousand points of light” he launched a movement. By signing the first National Service Act in 1990, President Bush ushered in the modern era of national service, setting the stage for the creation of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). Likewise, President Obama long has believed that service builds stronger communities and can improve the lives of those who take part. In his first 100 days in office, he signed the bipartisan Serve America Act that set out a plan to increase AmeriCorps , our flagship national service program. Since that time, applications to AmeriCorps have reached an all-time high and more Americans are volunteering than at any previous point in the past five years.