(CN) – President Donald Trump signed an order Wednesday canceling the federal student loan debt of thousands of permanently disabled veterans after addressing the 75th annual AMVETS convention in Kentucky.
He signed the memorandum on stage in Louisville, surrounded by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and leaders of the prominent veterans’ group.
During his 35-minute speech, Trump praised “America’s proudest, toughest and most extraordinary patriots” and said his administration is “fighting courageously for you.” Trump said veterans waited 44 years for the Veterans Choice Program, which allows 3 million of them to choose a private doctor in their communities.
The president also said the U.S. has spent $700 billion on defense in each of the three years of his administration.
“Our military was depleted. It was tired, and we totally rebuilt it,” he said.
Trump welcomed World War II veteran Woody Williams, thanked Republican Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin and praised Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is also from the Bluegrass State.
“He is a true fighter for veterans and Kentucky,” Trump said.
In addition to honoring AMVETS, also called American Veterans, for “75 years of love, loyalty and lifelong service,” Trump noted the recent 75th anniversary of D-Day, when American soldiers “charged through the fires of hell to secure the survival of liberty.”
More recently, Trump said, the American military has “pulverized the bloodthirsty killers of ISIS” and destroyed the caliphate in Syria.
“No adversary stands a chance against the awesome power of the red, white and blue,” the president said. “We don’t want to have to use it, but we have to have it.”
He said his administration has funded M1 Abrams tanks for the Army, advanced aircraft carriers for the Navy and fighter jets for the Air Force.
“We have also given the American military its largest pay raise in years,” he said.
Trump also discussed the VA Accountability Act, which he said has led to the dismissal of 7,600 VA workers.
“Now when someone mistreats our veterans,” he said, “you’re fired.”
Trump said the Department of Veterans Affairs has cut the prescription of opioids by 33% over the last two years and said “no issue is more urgent than ending the crisis of veterans’ suicide.”
He called up AMVETS member Jim Pigeon, who has challenged Americans to perform 22 pushups to raise awareness for the 22 veterans who commit suicide each day.
Trump added that Johnson & Johnson has developed a new inhaler that could help potential suicide victims.
“I think they should give it to us for free,” the president said.
Trump also said unemployment among veterans has declined by 37% during his presidency.
“If you are looking for a worker of unrivaled integrity, skill and devotion, all you have to do is hire a veteran,” he said.
The president received his biggest ovation when he said he was about to sign off on the cancellation of federal student loan debt for 25,000 disabled veterans. They owe an average of $30,000 on their student loans.
Catherine Castle, one of the beneficiaries of the order, developed health problems after two tours of Iraq and service in the Army, Navy and Air Force.
“This is an amazing relief for my family,” she said.
Before signing the order, Trump told the veterans, “because of you, America is safe, strong, free, and the greatest and mightiest nation on the face of the earth.”