Obama Vows Solid Support for Veterans
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 30, 2011 As the United States deals with its fiscal challenges, President Barack Obama emphasized today that it won’t do so at the cost of its military and won’t “balance the budget on the backs of our veterans.”
Despite 10 years of war, the U.S. military “is the best it’s ever been,” Obama told the American Legion National Convention in Minneapolis.
“And as we meet the tests that the future will surely bring, including hard fiscal choices here at home, there should be no doubt,” he said. “The United States of America will keep our military the best-trained, the best-led, the best-equipped fighting force in history. It will continue to be the best.”
Obama also vowed to staunchly defend the Department of Veterans Affairs’ budget during the budget-cutting process.
“I want to be absolutely clear,” he told the assembly. “We cannot, and we must not, and we will not balance the budget on the backs of our veterans. As commander in chief, I won’t allow it.”
Noting historical increases in VA funding in recent years, the president promised to maintain that momentum with special emphasis on programs for wounded warriors and veterans who have served since 9/11.
The president noted the United States’ obligation to its veterans, particularly those returning home from the current conflicts with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and other mental-health issues.
In addition to major improvements throughout the VA’s health care system, including better outreach and service to women as well as veterans in rural areas, VA is making big strides in meeting the needs of those suffering the unseen wounds of war Obama said.
“We’re continuing to make major investments -- improving outreach and suicide prevention, hiring and training more mental health counselors and treating more veterans than ever before,” he said.
Obama called recent reports of veterans not getting the prompt mental health care they need “unacceptable.”
“If a veteran has the courage to seek help, then we need to be doing everything in our power to deliver the life-saving mental [health] care they need,” he said.
VA will “stay on this” issue, Obama said, “and we’ll continue to make it easier for veterans with post-traumatic stress to qualify for VA benefits, regardless of what war you served in.”
In addition, the president cited programs within VA and across the federal government to address some of the associated issues: homelessness and unemployment, among them. In addition to helping veterans secure homes and funding the post-9/11 GI Bill that is now helping more than 500,000 veterans and their families go to college, Obama said he has directed the federal government to hire more veterans.
Meanwhile, Obama cited VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki’s leadership in building a “21st-century VA” that takes advantage of technology to provide faster, better service and care for military veterans.
With progress in medical records sharing between the Defense Department and VA, Obama promised, “we’re going to keep at it until our troops and veterans have a lifetime electronic record that you can keep for life.”
Other work remains ahead, he said, including efforts to “break the backlog of disability claims.”
“When our veterans who fought for our country have to fight just to get the benefits they’ve already earned -- that’s unacceptable,” the president told the forum. “So this is going to remain a priority.”
Obama closed with a reminder to all veterans -- no matter when they served or for how long -- that the United States owes them a debt of gratitude.
“America will never leave your side,” he said. “America will never forget you. We will always be grateful to you.”