As the United States deals with its
fiscal challenges, President Barack Obama emphasized today that it won’t
do so at the cost of its military and won’t “balance the budget on the
backs of our veterans.”
Barack Obama American Legion National Convention in Minneapolis
Despite 10 years of war, the U.S. military “is the best it’s ever been,”
Obama told the American Legion National Convention in Minneapolis.
“And as we meet the tests that the future will surely bring, including
hard fiscal choices here at home, there should be no doubt,” he said.
“The United States of America will keep our military the best-trained,
the best-led, the best-equipped fighting force in history. It will
continue to be the best.”
Obama also vowed to staunchly defend the Department of Veterans Affairs’
budget during the budget-cutting process.
“I want to be absolutely clear,” he told the assembly. “We cannot, and
we must not, and we will not balance the budget on the backs of our
veterans. As commander in chief, I won’t allow it.”
Noting historical increases in VA funding in recent years, the president
promised to maintain that momentum with special emphasis on programs for
wounded warriors and veterans who have served since 9/11.
The president noted the United States’ obligation to its veterans,
particularly those returning home from the current conflicts with
post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and other
In addition to major improvements throughout the VA’s health care
system, including better outreach and service to women as well as
veterans in rural areas, VA is making big strides in meeting the needs
of those suffering the unseen wounds of war Obama said.
“We’re continuing to make major investments -- improving outreach and
suicide prevention, hiring and training more mental health counselors
and treating more veterans than ever before,” he said.
Obama called recent reports of veterans not getting the prompt mental
health care they need “unacceptable.”
“If a veteran has the courage to seek help, then we need to be doing
everything in our power to deliver the life-saving mental [health] care
they need,” he said.
VA will “stay on this” issue, Obama said, “and we’ll continue to make it
easier for veterans with post-traumatic stress to qualify for VA
benefits, regardless of what war you served in.”
In addition, the president cited programs within VA and across the
federal government to address some of the associated issues:
homelessness and unemployment, among them. In addition to helping
veterans secure homes and funding the post-9/11 GI Bill that is now
helping more than 500,000 veterans and their families go to college,
Obama said he has directed the federal government to hire more veterans.
Meanwhile, Obama cited VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki’s leadership in
building a “21st-century VA” that takes advantage of technology to
provide faster, better service and care for military veterans.
progress in medical records sharing between the Defense Department and
VA, Obama promised, “we’re going to keep at it until our troops and
veterans have a lifetime electronic record that you can keep for life.”
Other work remains ahead, he said, including efforts to “break the
backlog of disability claims.”
“When our veterans who fought for our country have to fight just to get
the benefits they’ve already earned -- that’s unacceptable,” the
president told the forum. “So this is going to remain a priority.”
Obama closed with a reminder to all veterans -- no matter when they
served or for how long -- that the United States owes them a debt of
“America will never leave your side,” he said. “America will never
forget you. We will always be grateful to you.”