REMARKS BY VICE PRESIDENT PENCE
AT OPERATION COAL COUNTRY INNOVATIVE READINESS TRAINING
Eastern Kentucky University
1:32 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, hello, Kentucky! (Applause.) Thank you for that very warm welcome. It is an honor to be with all of you today. To Governor Bevin, to Secretary Azar, to my friend Congressman Rogers, to Senator Stivers, to Captain Jon Polos and the whole team here, members of the Governor’s Cabinet, to all the extraordinary men and women who are wearing the uniform of the United States of America and making us proud and making a difference across Eastern Kentucky: It is great to be with all of you. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
And it’s great to be here at the home of the Colonels, Eastern Kentucky University — (applause) — and to be part of Operation Coal Country. And also, as we just heard my friend say, here in the City of Hope, Manchester and Kentucky are setting the pace in the battle against opioid abuse and addiction, and I am honored to come here and celebrate that progress with all of you. (Applause.)
You know, I really love this state, except during basketball season. (Laughter.) But we’ll be back. (Laughter.)
You know, it is great to be with all of you. But it really is especially great to be with a friend of mine. When I was governor of Indiana, I watched him take the responsibilities of governor here in Kentucky. He’s a former captain in the United States Army. I knew then that he had an energy and a determination that could make a real difference here in the Commonwealth, and so it has.
He’s a man of faith. He’s a strong defender of the sanctity of life. He’s been an incredible partner with our President and this administration. And I’m told that Kentucky has already cut or amended 27 percent of state red tape. You’re a Right to Work state. And now more than 50,000 jobs have been created. Would you join me in thank Governor Matt Bevin for all of that and his work on opioid abuse and addiction? (Applause.) Take a bow, Governor.
It’s also great to be here — I mentioned him a second ago, but he’s someone who I served with during my 12 years in the United States Congress. I know he has served this region with incredible integrity and principle. He’s a man who has personified the values and the ideals that make Eastern Kentucky special. And I’m told that, by about a year from now, he’ll end up being the longest-serving member of the House or Senate in the history of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Would you just join me in thanking Congressman Hal Rogers for a lifetime of service to the people of Kentucky and America? (Applause.)
Hal is my friend. And as you heard those compelling words that he just expressed, he’s leaning into the effort and the challenge that you, across Eastern Kentucky, have particularly faced. And, Hal, I want to thank you for that. Thank you for supporting our efforts as well.
And mentioning those two friends of mine, let me mention one more friend of mine who is a great fan of the state of Kentucky. He is a champion of the Armed Forces of the United States. And he’s been leading an effort to combat opioid abuse and addiction all across this nation. I bring greetings from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. (Applause.) Thank you.
You know, yesterday, our President and the First Lady traveled to Dayton and El Paso. They carried with them the support and compassion of the American people for the victims and the families of the mass shootings that took place this last weekend.
Now, I know it’s on everyone’s hearts as well. And I also know that Kentucky is no stranger to the heartbreak of a mass shooting like we saw this weekend. And today, I can’t help but think of the families who lost loved ones in Marshall County, now more than a year ago. In fact, on my way here, I remembered I still have a photo in my office of little Bailey Holt, a 15-year-old girl who lost her life that day.
She actually lost her life because she was looking after others. Her mom told me, when we met, that Bailey could have made it out of the school. She was running out with other students. But she always wanted to work in healthcare — wanted to be a nurse. So, that day, she stopped to help one of the students that was injured, and then she lost her life.
But Kentucky stepped forward. With this governor’s leadership and the strong support in your state legislature, Kentucky passed bipartisan legislation to provide more school resource officers, mental health professionals in Kentucky schools, and created the new office of State [School] Security Marshal. And we are grateful, Governor, and to all the elected officials for the way you stepped forward and addressed this tragedy. (Applause.)
But I know I speak for all of us — as we talk today about the progress we’re making on healthcare and the progress we’re making combatting opioid abuse and addiction — I know I speak for all of us when I say that the families of those communities in Ohio and Texas and the families in Western Kentucky impacted by these unspeakable — unspeakable — acts of violence will continue to be in our prayers.
And I promise you, as the President said this Monday, we will confront this evil in our time with new and renewed energy. We will defend our families, our schools, our communities, and our nation, so help us God. (Applause.) So thank you for that.
But it is good to be with all of you. And it’s a special pleasure for me anytime I have the chance to be with men and women of the Armed Forces of the United States and people who have put on the uniform representing every branch of the service who have come here to be a part of Operation Coal Country. And why don’t you all stand up and take a bow? You all are making an incredible difference in the lives of people across this region. We’re proud of each and every one of you. (Applause.) Great job.
You know, I’m the proud father of a United States Marine, and the son of an army combat veteran. And I couldn’t be more proud to serve alongside a President who cares so deeply about the men and women of our armed forces and their families. And I expect you all know you have a Commander-in-Chief who will always have your back. I mean, I truly do believe President Donald Trump is the best friend the Armed Forces of the United States have ever had. (Applause.) I do.
I mean, in the last two years, under the President’s direction, we’ve taken decisive action, with the strong support of Congressman Rogers and both of your great senators, to rebuild our military. And we’re restoring the arsenal of democracy. This President actually signed the largest increase in our national defense since the days of Ronald Reagan. And that included the largest pay raise for members of the military in more than 10 years. (Applause.) So, thank you, Congressman.
And while we’re at it, let me say — let me say thank you to the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, and Senator Rand Paul for their great support of our armed forces. (Applause.)
You know, we always like to say that a truth of history is the Armed Forces of the United States are the greatest force for good in the history of the world. And today gives evidence of that among our people.
This Innovative Readiness Training program is a program that is benefitting our military, making us more prepared when the men and women who are gathered here in uniform deploy, but it’s also making a difference in the lives of the people of Eastern Kentucky and, frankly, people all across this country.
I mean, each one of them are a part of that charge, in the words of our 16th President, “to care for him that shall have borne the battle.” But coming here and doing the training here, impacting the quality of life of so many people across Eastern Kentucky — and, frankly, as this IRT program does all across America, providing critical medical, and vision, and dental care for Americans at the point of the need on the home front — is truly inspiring.
And we’ve seen the impact of IRT all across Kentucky. Your governor actually fought hard to keep IRT in Kentucky. It may have been that military background. He just liked having a lot of these soldiers coming off — coming to the Commonwealth.
But thanks to his leadership, last year, IRT’s Operation Bobcat provided more 11,000 procedures to more than 2,600 patients in four counties just a little bit north of here. And now, as I stand here today — Operation Coal Country — more than 150 great military medical professionals from the Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve, Army Reserve, Navy, Naval Reserve are providing the same care to four counties right here in Eastern Kentucky. And they’re making a tremendous difference in the lives of our families. (Applause.)
Captain Polos was just telling me about the services that have been provided here. And again, think about this innovative program. The military has to train to be ready. But the IRT program takes advantage of that fact and says, “Well, why don’t you come and train in communities at the point of the need, expanding healthcare services for people?” It really is remarkable.
I mean, the truth is, the IRT — the services provided here, as the Captain just told me — have already saved Kentuckians more than $600,000 in healthcare costs, and we’re incredibly grateful to all of the men and women who provided this service.
There’s a few of them here worth mentioning. I guess there’s an ear, nose, and throat doctor with the Franciscan Health in Northwest Indiana, a proud graduate of Valparaiso University in Porter County who’s now the lead medical provider for this mission. Join me in thanking Major Matthew Provenzano. Where are you, Matthew? Take a bow. (Applause.)
I’m just glad to know there’s one more Hoosier in the house. (Laughter.)
And there’s another medical professional I wanted to mention, who has served on active duty for six years and in the Air Force Reserve for the last 19 years. He’s deployed to the Middle East three times. He’s received Meritorious Service Medals; the Air Force Achievement Medal; four Oak Leaf Clusters. He’s an incredible, incredible airman. And now he’s the assistant officer in charge of this entire operation. Join me in thanking Captain George Bates. Take a bow, Captain. Great job. (Applause.) Great job.
And I expect Captain Bates would not want me to leave him out, but to join me in thanking Captain Jon Polos here for doing an incredible job leading this mission. Take a bow, Captain. (Applause.) Great job. These are all great Americans.
You all have been making a difference. You’ve been making a difference among families that oftentimes don’t have ready access to healthcare or maybe have difficulty affording it. So being out here, you’re demonstrating not only the professionalism of your service, but the compassion of the American people. And doing that all across Kentucky and in rural areas across this country is making a tremendous positive impact on the health and wellbeing of our people.
And the truth is, this IRT program plays a key role in our efforts to improve public health for communities most in need all over America.
Today, the truth of the matter is we need healthcare across rural areas of America maybe now more than ever because we’re in the midst of fighting the deadliest drug crisis in the history of this country.
You know, it’s heartbreaking to say that nearly 200 Americans every day lose their lives to drug overdoses. I can tell you that there is no community that has been spared, no state that has been spared.
I expect, as I look out at this crowd today, there is no one in this room doesn’t know a family or that’s been impacted, particularly by opioid abuse and overdoses that have claimed lives.
Back when I was governor of Indiana, I sat at the kitchen table with families who lost the most promising young people you could ever imagine. Never still could ever comprehend what happened to their young one.
But then I’ve also sat at kitchen tables with moms and dads and young ones that found a way out, that found access to healthcare and, oftentimes, access to mental health that gave them the opportunity to find a pathway.
And I want to reiterate what’s been said at this podium before. Before we talk about the investments that are made and the progress that’s been made, let me say a word to anyone out there that’s caught up in drug abuse and addiction: There is help. Reach out. This community, this state, and this nation want you to make your way back. (Applause.)
And the truth is, we’ve been getting tougher on drug dealers and the flow of narcotics across this country, tougher than ever before. But we know we can’t arrest our way out of this problem. And that’s why we’ve — we got medical professionals and all new resources that are flowing at the point of the need.
And people that are caught up in drug abuse and addiction need to know there’s help. There’s help here in this county, here in this state, and here in this nation.
And the truth of the matter is, I don’t really have to tell people across the Commonwealth of Kentucky about what’s happening with drug abuse and addiction. You all know from personal experience.
I’m told, from 2008 to 2017, opioid-related overdose deaths in Kentucky tripled. Heroin-related deaths increased 22-fold. Meth-related overdose deaths increased 20-fold during that time.
When we took office in 2017, Kentucky had the eighth- highest opioid overdose death rate in America and the sixth- highest meth death rate in this country as well. This was an epidemic across the state of Kentucky.
It was then the President — speaking of the nation as a whole and communities across this country that were struggling — that we would do our best to work with leaders in Congress to provide the resources to, as he said, “liberate our fellow Americans from the grip of drug addiction…once and for all.” And over the past two and a half years, we’ve made progress.
Thanks to the strong leadership of your governor and strong support of leaders in the legislature and in the national Congress, we’ve provided all new resources to Kentucky and states across this country.
And I do want to take a moment to thank — to thank once again Senator Mitch McConnell and Senator Rand Paul, as well as Congressman Hal Rogers. Thank you for supporting President Trump’s vision to combat opioid abuse and addiction in an unprecedented manner. We’re investing today more in combatting that single drug abuse than ever before in the history of this country, and we thank you. (Applause.)
Let me also say, I know they’re both recovering from health challenges themselves, and I want to send to my friend, Senator McConnell and Senator Paul, our best wishes for a speedy recovery.
But we’ve made progress. Here in Kentucky, Governor Bevin actually increased funding at the state level by $79 million. And he mentioned, he made naloxone available all across this state, which can reverse an overdose once it has started. He limited the length of opioid prescriptions, expanded addiction treatment for those who are behind bars, and he’s shown strong leadership at the state level. And as I mentioned, President Trump and our administration, with the support of our partners in Congress, have brought unprecedented resources to combat this crisis.
Early on, the President signed into law more than a billion dollars to states like Kentucky to combat opioid abuse. And in just two and a half years, the Department of Justice has increased the number of federal opioid prosecutions by 40 percent. (Applause.)
With the strong efforts of Secretary Alex Azar and our team at HHS, we’ve also been providing resources to states across the country. And it really is the other reason I came here today. Up to this time, we’ve actually awarded hundreds of millions of dollars to community health organizations, treatment centers, and other partners to support research, prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts all across Kentucky and all across America.
Last year alone, this administration provided $131 million in drug control grants just in Kentucky, including more than $2.8 million to 23 community coalitions, one of which, I’m told, is right next door in Knox County.
We’ve provided $50 million in grants to support the Governor’s Kentucky Opioid Response Effort, targeting treatment services to parts of the Commonwealth that need it the most. And President Trump and your governor have been standing with the people of Kentucky, and the progress speaks for itself.
Since our administration took office, we have 34 percent fewer opioids being described — prescribed all across America. Let me say that again: We have reduced opioid prescriptions across America by 34 percent. (Applause.) That’s progress.
Nearly 5 million pounds of unneeded or expired pills have been removed from our communities through the National Take Back program. And last year, and most important of all — last year, overdose deaths decreased by nearly 5 percent nationwide. It is a start toward recovery. (Applause.)
And in this region of crisis, Manchester is a city of hope. Overdose deaths in Kentucky have been reduced by nearly 15 percent. (Applause.) Well done, Kentucky! That’s amazing.
That means more than 200 lives are being saved here in the Bluegrass State. Last year was the first time that overdose deaths have dropped in Kentucky in five years, and it’s the first time they’ve gone down nationwide in nearly 30 years. And we’re deeply grateful for the precious American lives that have been saved.
But we know our work is not done. And I expect what brings many of you here today is your determination to finish the job. And I want you to know we’re with you.
As Secretary Azar mentioned just a few moments ago, our administration has already awarded more than $350 million in opioid grants to states grappling with addiction. That includes $87 million to the University of Kentucky. That was the largest research grant in UK history. (Applause.)
And today, in addition to coming and commending all of those that are working in this important IRT program, as your Vice President, I’m pleased to announce to the people of Kentucky that the Department of Health and Human Services has authorized another $400 million in additional grants to fight the drug crisis nationwide. And nearly $10 million will come to the state of Kentucky. (Applause.) We are with you, Kentucky!
We’re going to provide grants of more than $160,000 for facilities in Whitesburg, Hazard, Prestonsburg, and Beattyville. Another grant is going to go to a prevention and treatment service right here at Eastern Kentucky University.
Now, each of these grants is going to be used to hire professionals like counselors and social workers, nurses, and licensed mental health providers who will provide critical services that will be available all across this region.
And one grant will go, I’m pleased to say, to a faith-based facility next door in Knox County. I’m thrilled the CEO is here with us today. Under his leadership, I’m told, his community health center is caring for more than 30,000 patients, providing medical and dental care at 39 schools in Eastern Kentucky, helping to deliver nearly 1,000 babies every year, and doing it all for the testimony of faith.
Would you join me in showing our gratitude to Grace Community Health Center CEO, Mike Stanley? (Applause.) Where are you, Mike? Great job. Thank you, Mike. We’re proud to partner with you. And thanks — thanks for your tremendous ministry and tremendous service of your whole team.
We’re also providing $750,000 for the University of Pikeville to help train the next generation of social workers and then place them where they can have the biggest impact.
With today’s new grant funding, we’re going to continue to build on the progress that we’ve made to reduce demand for deadly drugs. The object here is to really come alongside people that have been caught up in drug abuse and addiction. And we’ll continue to lean into it. I promise you that. We’ll continue to provide Kentucky with the resources to support the personnel and the services that can help people find their way out of the darkness of drug abuse and addiction.
But we recognize that while we work to reduce the demand for drugs, we also are determined to reduce the supply of drugs coming into this country. And the fact is that most of the drugs that are taking lives here in Kentucky and all across this country come across our southern border.
Last year, the Department of Homeland Security seized enough fentanyl to kill every man, woman, and child in America three times over. It’s incredible. And in the midst of a crisis on our southern border, where we’ve seen month after month over 100,000 people — predominantly families with dependent children — coming in to cross over into our country and take advantage of loopholes in our law, make no mistake about it: It’s also created an opportunity for drug cartels, in the midst of that crisis on our border, to move their illicit trade into the United States.
It’s one reason why the President declared a national emergency earlier this year. And we secured funding from the Congress and the Department of Defense to build a wall on the southern border of the United States. (Applause.)
It’s also a reason why this President stood strong and demanded that Mexico do more to intervene in the crisis on our southern border. We called on Mexico, under the threat of potential tariffs, to step up to defend their southern border and do more to defend ours. And thanks to the President’s strong stand — and I was in some of those negotiations — Mexico is doing more today to secure our southern border and theirs than ever before in modern history. (Applause.)
And because of the work we’ve done and because of what Mexico is doing to partner with us, today the Department of Homeland Security will announce that apprehensions on our southern border have already dropped by nearly 40 percent in just two months. (Applause.)
The President also negotiated a bipartisan agreement with Congress. With the strong support of Congressman Rogers and others in the Appropriations Committee, we were able to secure nearly $5 billion to deal with the humanitarian crisis that’s facing our Customs and Border Protection.
But I’ll make you a promise, Kentucky: We’re going to secure our border. We’re going to end the crisis of illegal immigration on our southern border. We’re also going to stop the flow of illegal drugs into America and into Kentucky. And we’re going to fix this broken immigration system once and for all. That’s our promise. (Applause.)
So we gather today with reason to be hopeful. I hope the news today about the additional resources that our administration, our partners in Congress, your governor, and your state legislature have provided are an encouragement to you.
More than that, I hope the way that Kentucky is putting it to good use is an encouragement to you. To see a 15 percent drop in 12 months in overdoses across this state is a testament to a lot of compassion and a lot of hard work and determination.
But I want you to know we’re going to continue to work very closely with the leaders of this state and with healthcare providers, with law enforcement, and with social workers to combat this crisis, to build on the momentum. There’s reason to be hopeful — with the overdose deaths going down, drug prosecutions going up, our border becoming more secure.
And I can say there’s reason to be hopeful because of the determination I see on all the faces across this room. And I absolutely believe with all my heart that, in Kentucky and across America, we will confront the scourge of drug abuse and addiction. And we will save lives in our communities and across this nation. (Applause.)
Our commitment is stronger than ever. And for those who receive treatment for addiction, we’re going to continue to create more and more opportunities when they come back to their communities.
And that’s the good news. For people coming out of a scourge of drug abuse and addiction, there’s opportunities all across this state in a growing economy, and that includes that 50,000 new jobs across the state of Kentucky. There’s lots of good work to be had.
And so I just leave here today with a grateful heart. I’m grateful to all these members of our military, who deserve one more round of applause for the difference that they’re making. (Applause.) Thank you for your service. Thank you for being a part of a program that literally is changing lives, improving the health and wellbeing of the people of this state. I’m grateful to each and every one of you who’ve been a part of this incredible progress.
As the congressman said so memorably — from what was a region in crisis, to turn Manchester into a city of hope — I want you to know Kentucky is leading the nation in finding our way back from this crisis of opioid abuse and addiction. And I thank you. I thank you for your inspiration. I really do. (Applause.)
And I just want to tell you all that, as we go into the challenges in the days ahead, I want you to have faith, too. Faith that we’re going to continue to improve the lives of families in Eastern Kentucky. We’re going to continue to break the chains of addiction, expand healthcare and expand jobs and opportunity for all the people of this state.
Have faith in the armed forces of this country whose professionalism and compassion is so evident in supporting families across this region.
And finally, have faith in — have faith that, if we hold fast to the author of faith, the anchor of our souls, that we’re going to see our way through every challenge that we face in these days, and that God will bless Kentucky and America beyond anything that we could ask or imagine, if we have faith. (Applause.)
So, Kentucky, we’re with you. We’re proud of the work that you’re doing here today. And I hope that today’s announcement gives evidence that we’re going to continue to stand with you for the families and the communities of this great commonwealth until we end the scourge of opioid abuse and addiction and improve the lives of people across this state.
Thank you. God bless Kentucky and God bless America. (Applause.)