WASHINGTON — The country is welcoming home a new wave of veterans, and Americans have a sacred trust to get them the benefits they earned, President Barack Obama said Aug. 26.
In a speech to the American Legion’s annual convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, Obama said more than a million service members will return to civilian life in the coming years.
“We have to do more to uphold that sacred trust, not just this year and next year, but for decades to come,” he said.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has had problems. There is a backlog of cases, and an internal VA investigation has found some hospitals cooked the books on waitlists for veterans to receive care.
“We are gonna get to the bottom of these problems,” the president said. “We’re gonna fix what is wrong. We’re gonna do right by you, and we are gonna do right by your families. And that is a solemn pledge and commitment that I’m making to you here.”
The administration is moving ahead with changes to the VA. Obama signed the Veterans Access Choice and Accountability Act, which provides money to hire staff and allows veterans who live more than 40 miles from VA care to see doctors outside the VA.
Obama listed his priorities, underlying it all, Obama wants increased funding for the VA next fiscal year. He also will resist any effort “to exploit the recent problems at the VA to turn veterans’ health care into a voucher system,” he said. “We need to make the system work.
“We’ve got to deliver the care our newest veterans need most and that includes tailored care that treats our women veterans with respect and dignity,” he said. “It means doing even more to help veterans from all wars who are struggling with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress. And we have to end this tragedy of suicide among our troops and veterans.”
Obama called for more awareness, more outreach and more access to mental health care.
“So long as any service member or veteran is suffering, or feels like they have nowhere to turn, or doesn’t get the support that they need, that means we haven’t done enough,” he said.
The president is using executive actions to expand this care. “We’re expanding suicide prevention training across the military and the VA, so colleagues and clinicians can spot the warning signs and encourage our troops and veterans to seek help,” he said. “We’re gonna make it easier for service members being treated for mental health conditions to continue their care as they transition to the VA, so automatically connecting them with the support they need, making sure they don’t lose access to any medications they may be taking.’
Another priority is for VA to reduce the backlog. “The good news is since its peak last year, we’ve worked with you to slash the backlog by more than 50 percent,” he said.
The government needs to attack the problem of homelessness among veterans, Obama said.
“Again, we’ve got good news to report,” he said. “Today, I can announce that working together over the last few years, we have been able to reduce the number of homeless veterans by one-third. And that means on any given night, there are 25,000 fewer veterans on the streets or in shelters.”