USA — Obama Reaffirms Commitment to Veteran Care

WASHINGTON — Car­ing for vet­er­ans is a moral oblig­a­tion, Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma said today in a speech at the Dis­abled Amer­i­can Vet­er­ans Nation­al Con­ven­tion in Atlanta.

“Every Amer­i­can who has ever worn the uni­form must know this: your coun­try is going to take care of you when you come home,” Oba­ma said. “Our nation’s com­mit­ment to our vet­er­ans – to you and your fam­i­lies – is a sacred trust.”

The pres­i­dent laud­ed Vet­er­ans Affairs Sec­re­tary Eric K. Shin­se­ki for “build­ing a 21st cen­tu­ry VA,” call­ing the administration’s com­mit­ment to the vet­er­an com­mu­ni­ty “his­toric.”

“We need to keep our mil­i­tary strong, our coun­try safe and our vet­er­ans secure,” the pres­i­dent said, not­ing VA’s $15 bil­lion bud­get increase last year, the largest hike in 30 years. The addi­tion­al bud­get is improv­ing health care ben­e­fits for Viet­nam War vet­er­ans suf­fer­ing from Agent Orange-relat­ed ill­ness­es. Gulf War vet­er­ans also now receive care for chem­i­cal expo­sure dur­ing Desert Storm.

Oba­ma also not­ed the elim­i­na­tion of co-pay­ments for “cat­a­stroph­i­cal­ly” dis­abled vet­er­ans as well as pro­posed leg­is­la­tion that would allow severe­ly dis­abled retirees to draw mil­i­tary retire­ment and VA dis­abil­i­ty ben­e­fits.

“It’s the right thing to do,” the pres­i­dent said. “We’ve dras­ti­cal­ly improved health care across the board.”

Oth­er VA ini­tia­tives include efforts to cre­ate a sin­gle life­time elec­tron­ic med­ical record that vet­er­ans will be able to down­load from the VA web­site. This makes it eas­i­er for vet­er­ans to share their records out­side the VA health sys­tem.

VA is also tack­ling records and claim appli­ca­tion back­logs by hir­ing thou­sands of claim proces­sors. VA offi­cials are work­ing to remove paper from the claims process, which they believe will end the back­log once and for all, Oba­ma said.

Oba­ma also rec­og­nized VA efforts to end home­less­ness among vet­er­ans and improve vet­er­an employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties. “We’re not going to be sat­is­fied until every vet­er­an who has fought for Amer­i­can has a home in Amer­i­ca,” he said.

Shin­se­ki has spo­ken can­did­ly many times dur­ing his tenure as VA sec­re­tary about his desire to end vet­er­an home­less­ness. VA has ini­tia­tives with the Hous­ing and Urban Devel­op­ment Depart­ment as well as new pro­grams to treat drug addic­tion and psy­cho­log­i­cal issues before home­less­ness can become an issue.

Ini­tia­tives such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill and job-place­ment pro­grams also may help in keep­ing vet­er­ans off the streets, Oba­ma said, not­ing direc­tives he’s giv­en for the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to make hir­ing vet­er­ans a pri­or­i­ty.

“Every busi­ness in Amer­i­ca needs to know our vets have the train­ing, they’ve got the skills, and they’re ready to work,” Oba­ma said. “Our coun­try is stronger when we tap the incred­i­ble tal­ents of our vet­er­ans.”

Oba­ma also spoke about improved care for wound­ed war­riors and dis­abled vet­er­ans.

“We’re con­tin­u­ing to direct unprece­dent­ed sup­port to our wound­ed war­riors in uni­form — more treat­ment cen­ters, more case man­agers and deliv­er­ing the absolute best care avail­able,” he said. “For those who can, we want to help them get back to where they want to be — with their units. And that includes ser­vice­mem­bers with a dis­abil­i­ty, who still have so much to offer our mil­i­tary.”

Still, the pres­i­dent acknowl­edged, much work remains for VA and his admin­is­tra­tion to fur­ther improve vet­er­an care. Ser­vice­mem­bers and vet­er­ans, Oba­ma said, have taught Amer­i­cans to remain vig­i­lant and resilient in the face of chal­lenges.

“You are the very essence of Amer­i­ca — the val­ues that sus­tain us as peo­ple and the virtues our nation needs most right now,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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