The hardly new announcement that the US is drawing down in Iraq captured media headlines all day. The press ran with every possible variation of this theme, but neglected to report on an equally important component of the speech - and the war: the veterans.
If you watched the whole speech, you saw that the drawdown update on Iraq was just one of two big themes – the other being what the Obama Administration is doing for veterans. And even though the President said many of the right things, the hard results were lacking. Lip service doesn’t go far with military folks. We expect more than rhetoric about respect and promises; we expect outcomes.
Mr. Reickhoff, as well as every other man or woman who has served in uniform, all have a hell of a lot more standing than I ever will on Veterans matters. (Mea Culpa, he's the expert, he's lived it, I haven't.)
Still, I watched the speech, and this list strikes me as a little more than lip service (accomplishments in bold, proposals in blue):
At the same time, every American who has ever worn the uniform must also know this: Your country is going to take care of you when you come home. Our nation’s commitment to our veterans, to you and your families, is a sacred trust. And to me and my administration, upholding that trust is a moral obligation. It’s not just politics.
That’s why I’ve charged Secretary Shinseki with building a 21st century VA. And that includes one of the largest percentage increases to the VA budget in the past 30 years. We are going to cut this deficit that we’ve got, and I’ve proposed a freeze on discretionary domestic spending. But what I have not frozen is the spending we need to keep our military strong, our country safe and our veterans secure. So we’re going to keep on making historic commitments to our veterans.
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.
For 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. It’s the right thing to do.
We’ve dramatically increased funding for veterans health care across the board, and 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.
And since the rumors continue to fly, even though they are wrong, let me say it as clearly as I can: 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 benefits that you know and trust are safe, and that includes prosthetics for our disabled veterans.
Thanks to advanced appropriations, the delays for funding for veterans medical care are over. And just as those delays were unacceptable, so too are long delays in the claims process. So Secretary Shinseki is working overtime to create a single lifetime electronic record that our troops and veterans can keep for life.
And today -- today I can announce that for the first time ever, veterans will be able to go to the VA website, click a simple “blue button,” and download or print your personal health records so you have them when you need them and can share them with your doctors outside of the VA. That’s happening this fall.
We’re hiring thousands of new claims processors to break the backlog once and for all. And to make sure the backlog doesn’t come back, we’re reforming the claims process itself with new information technologies and a paperless system.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hallelujah!
THE PRESIDENT: We got an Amen over here. (Laughter and applause.)
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 the 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 online 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 technologies to serve our vets, including those of you with multiple traumatic injuries. And we’re going to keep at this until we meet our commitment to cut those backlogs, slash those wait times, and deliver your benefits sooner. This is a priority and we are going to get it done.
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 than there were when we took office. But we’re not going to be satisfied until every veteran who has fought for America has a home in America. We will not stop.
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.
And for veterans trying to find work in a very tough economy, we’re helping with job training and placement. And I’ve directed the federal government to make it a priority to hire more veterans, including disabled veterans. And every business in America needs to know our vets have the training, they’ve got the skills, they have the dedication -- they are ready to work. And our country is stronger when we tap the incredible talents of our 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 -- 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. And I recently signed into law the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act. That’s a long name, but let me tell you what it does. It not only improves treatment for traumatic brain injury and PTSD, it gives new support to many of the caregivers who put their own lives on hold to care for their loved one.
And as so many of you know, PTSD is a pain like no other -- the nightmares that keep coming back, the rage that strikes suddenly, the hopelessness that’s led too many of our troops and veterans to take their own lives. So today, I want to say in very personal terms to anyone who is struggling -- don’t suffer in silence. It’s not a sign of weakness to reach out for support -- it’s a sign of strength. Your country needs you. We are here for you. We are here to help you stand tall. Don’t give up. Reach out.
We’re making major investments in awareness, outreach, and suicide prevention -- hiring more mental health professionals, improving care and treatment. For those of you suffering from PTSD, we’re making it a whole lot easier to qualify for VA benefits. From now on, if a VA doctor confirms a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, that is enough -- no matter what war you served in.
These are the commitments my administration has made. These are the promises we’ve worked to keep. This is the sacred trust we have pledged to uphold -- to you and all who serve.
The following is Mr. Reickhoff's list of demands:
And so far during President’s Obama’s time in office, veteran unemployment has risen, the VA disability backlog remains unacceptably high and suicide rates continue to skyrocket. The veterans community hoped that the President would deliver concrete solutions to these acute challenges in this speech and issue a call to action. But what we got instead, was mostly just talk.
Now, the President addressed both the backlog and suicide rates. There's more funding for both, and they're still working on making a single electronic record for our returning vets to end the backlog once and for all. I'd say that one falls under in progress. Once the source of PTSD is cut off, one we stop creating combat veterans, the suicide rate will start to fall. The most important thing for groups like IAVA is to let the Administration know how well the improvements are working and if they feel more money is necessary.
The problems of Vet unemployment is connected to the broader economy (let's not get tribal here, Paul; this is kicking the crap out of everybody). An uptick in the economy will fix that. In the meantime, there the Federal Government is hiring more Vets, and there's job training. That problem isn't going to get better with a special appropriation for Veterans. Once businesses start hiring, that rising tide will lift all boats, including Veterans.