In a speech to the Disabled American Veterans National Convention Aug. 10 in Orlando, Fla., President Barack Obama described the progress made by programs designed to give veterans the support they need.
Following an introduction by First Lady Michelle Obama – who has made support to veterans her signature issue – the president said Americans must do more to support those who have given so much to the nation.
The president spoke about bolstering efforts to improve mental health coverage for vets – especially for the effects of the signature wounds of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries.
“We’re unveiling a new national action plan to guide mental health research across government, industry and academia, so that we’re going to focus on developing more effective ways to prevent, diagnose and treat mental health conditions like TBI and PTSD,” the president said to the conventioneers. “And to get it done, we’re moving ahead with more than $100 million in new research.”
He assured veterans that if they already receive health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs, under the Affordable Care Act “your VA health care does not change; it is safe, there are no new fees.”
The president bored in on the VA claims backlog. He assured the conference-goers that the VA will slash the backlog. VA has hired more personnel, he said, and veterans service organizations like DVA have chipped in.
“Today, I can report that we are not where we need to be, but we’re making progress,” the president said. “Finally the backlog is shrinking. In the last five months alone, it’s down nearly 20 percent. We’re turning the tide.”
Obama spoke about efforts to end veterans’ homelessness, and the signing of the Helping Heroes Fly Act. The act ends intrusive airport screenings for wounded warriors and disabled vets, especially for those with prosthetics.
Giving veterans the tools they need to succeed remains the centerpiece of the president’s agenda on veterans. “With our new transition assistance program we’re doing more to help departing service members and their spouses plan their careers and find that new job,” Obama said. “We’re going to keep helping our newest veterans and their families pursue their education under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.”
The president announced a program called Eight Keys to Success for colleges and universities to make educational institutions welcoming for vets and to help “veterans get that degree, get that credential and compete for the high-skilled jobs of tomorrow.”
On the jobs front, Obama called on Congress to pass the Veterans Jobs Corps, which will put veterans to work protecting and rebuilding America. “We’re also doing everything we can to help you get those private sector jobs,” he said.
That help includes assistance with job searches, more tools like the online jobs bank that connects veterans to open jobs, and making it easier to transfer military skills to civilian licenses and credentials, the president said.
Already, through the first lady’s Joining Forces initiative, American businesses have hired more than 290,000 veterans and military spouses, he said, adding that employers have committed to hiring more than 400,000 more.
“We’re going to keep urging companies across America to do the smart thing – hire some of the best workers you’ll ever find – hire a vet,” the president said.