When President Obama spoke to the Disabled American Veterans in Atlanta, Ga. on August 1, reporters scanned his words closely for news of the Iraq war. Would he signal any change in policy, give hints about when and how the troops scheduled to leave would actually leave? That turned out to be the “news”: that 50,000 U.S. troops would remain in Iraq as advisers and trainers, while the combat troops would leave. The Obama quote repeated in the media was: “I made it clear that by August 31, 2010 America’s combat mission in Iraq would end. And that is exactly what we are doing—as promised, on schedule.”
But the president said much more. What did not make the headlines had more to do with the reason he chose to address disabled veterans: he wanted to tell them about what his administration is doing to meet their needs and the needs of all U.S. vets. “For you, coming home was the beginning of another battle—the battle to recover,” the President said. “You fought to stand again, to walk again, to work again.” He called his administration’s commitment to veterans “a sacred trust,” “a moral obligation.” Then he laid out an impressive list of 16 actions and proposed actions to demonstrate his commitment. It must have been an enormous lift to their spirits.
See what you think of these:
• I’ve charged Secretary Shinseki with building a 21st century VA. That includes one of the largest percentage increases to the VA budget in the past 30 years.
• For about 200,000 Vietnam vets who may have been exposed to Agent Orange and who now suffer from three chronic diseases, we’re making it easier for you to get the health care and benefits you need. And or our Gulf War veterans, we’ve declared that nine infectious diseases are now presumed to be related to your service in Desert Storm.
• For our disabled veterans, we’ve eliminated co-pays for those of you who are catastrophically disabled.
• We’ve kept our promise on concurrent receipt by proposing legislation that would allow severely disabled retirees to receive your military retired pay and your VA disability benefits.
• We’ve dramatically increased funding for veterans health care across the board. That includes improving care for rural veterans and women veterans. For those half-million vets who had lost their eligibility—our Priority 8 veterans—we’re restoring your access to VA health care.
• The historic health care reform legislation that I signed into law does not—I repeat, does not—change your veterans benefits. The VA health care and benefits that you know and trust are safe, and that includes prosthetics for our disabled veterans.
• Thanks to advanced appropriations, the days of delayed funding for veterans medical care are over. And just as those delays were unacceptable, so too are long delays in the claims process.
• So we’re working hard to create a single lifetime electronic record that our troops and veterans can keep for life.
• We’re hiring thousands of new claims processors to break the backlog once and for all. And … we’re reforming the claims process itself, with new information technologies and paperless systems.
• As a result of the innovation competition that I announced last summer, our dedicated VA employees suggested more than 10,000 new ways to cut through the red tape and bureaucracy. And we’re already putting dozens of these innovative ideas into action. Additionally, we’re enabling more veterans to check the status of their claims on-line and from their cell phone.
• As a next step, we’re opening this competition to entrepreneurs and academics so the best minds in America can help us develop the best technologies to serve our vets, including those of you with multiple traumatic injuries.
• We’re making progress in ending homelessness among our veterans. Today, on any given night, there are about 20,000 fewer veterans on the streets. But we’re not going to be satisfied until every veteran who has fought for America has a home in America.
• Finally, we’re keeping faith with our newest veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. We’re offering more of the support and counseling they need to transition back to civilian life. That includes funding the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which is already helping more than 300,000 veterans and family members pursue their dream of a college education.
• For veterans trying to find work in a very tough economy, we’re helping with job training and placement. I’ve directed the federal government to make it a priority to hire more veterans, including disabled veterans.
• For those coming home injured, 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. For those who can, we want to help them get back to where they want to be—with their units. And that includes service members with a disability, who still have so much to offer our military.
• We’re directing unprecedented resources to treating the signature wounds of today’s wars—Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I recently signed into law the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act. It not only improves treatment for T-B-I and P-T-S-D, it gives new support to many of the caregivers who put their lives on hold to care for their loved one.
Karen Sue Smith