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Aboard Air Force One
En Route Charlotte, North Carolina
10:44 A.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: This afternoon, as you know, the President will be addressing the National Convention of the American Legion, where he’ll discuss keeping our commitment to America’s veterans isn’t just a policy priority, it’s also a moral obligation. That’s why the President, when he took office, dedicated additional resources to mental health care for veterans, benefits for those veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange, and loans for those veterans and members of their families who are trying to get an education.
And in light of reports earlier this summer that highlighted the need for new management reforms to improve service delivery at the VA for our veterans, the administration acted quickly to implement them. But there is a lot more work to be done, some of which has already been announced just today. And as Secretary McDonald continues his work, he’ll make sure that accountability is restored at the VA and that America has a VA that puts our veterans first.
So you’ll hear a lot more from the President on this issue today, and I’d refer you to the factsheet that we put out earlier today for additional details on some of these proposals.
So with that, we’ll go to your questions.
Q Josh, can you talk to us a little bit about surveillance over Syria, what the goals are? Does that suggest that there’s some imminent military action by the U.S.? And has the U.S. consulted at all with the Assad regime over this surveillance?
MR. EARNEST: Let me start with a couple of things that I said yesterday. The first is, the President has not made any decisions at this point about any military operations in Syria. I’m not in a position to discuss the details -- the operational details of our nation’s intelligence activities. As I also mentioned yesterday, there are teams of professionals at the Pentagon who are responsible on a daily basis for reviewing and updating and putting together contingency plans for the President of the United States and the Commander-in-Chief.
This is work that the Pentagon does on a regular basis, and for details about those plans I’d refer you to the Pentagon. But it certainly isn’t a surprise to anybody here that those plans are based on intelligence.
What we have also made clear that is the President, as a matter of policy, will not hesitate to use military force where necessary to protect Americans. We’ve been just as clear about our view that resolving the situation in Iraq, related to ISIL, is not something that can be done only using America’s military might. Permanently restoring -- or at least restoring on a sustainable basis security to the nation of Iraq and to that region between Iraq and Syria will require the United States to use so many other tools in our arsenal. It will require an effective, inclusive Iraqi government that can unite that country to face the threat that’s posed by ISIL. It will require the involvement of other governments in the region that have a blatantly obvious interest in this outcome. It will require the involvement of countries around the world, particularly our Western allies that also have an incentive to confront that threat that’s posed by ISIL.
We talked also a little bit yesterday about the risk that’s posed by foreign fighters, those individuals with Western passports that have traveled to that region and taken up arms alongside ISIL. We are concerned, and our allies are concerned, about the risk that is posed by those individuals returning to the West and carrying out violent actions in the West that could be aimed at Western targets.
So we’ve been clear about what our strategy is here, and it is a strategy that is focused on using all the elements of American power and influence to try to resolve this situation. That, of course, includes the military, but is not limited only to the military.
Q The Assad regime has said that any act over its territory would be considered a hostile act if they did not -- if they weren’t notified. Can you categorically say the U.S. will not notify or consult or coordinate with the Assad regime on any action?
MR. EARNEST: As a matter of U.S. policy, we have not recognized the Assad regime as the leader of Syria. And there are no plans to change that policy, and there are no plans to coordinate with the Assad regime as we consider this terror threat.
Q Can you comment on the Egypt-UAE bombings in Libya?
MR. EARNEST: I’ve seen those reports. I’m not in a position to comment on those reports either. I would suggest that you check with the Egyptians and the Emiratis on those reports that cite their military involvement in Libya.
The thing that I will reiterate is that it is the view of the United States that an outside interference in the situation in Libya only exacerbates the tensions in that country and serves to undermine the democratic transition that the political leaders in that country are trying to implement. But in terms of the specific reports of those military airstrikes, I’d refer you to the countries that are mentioned in those reports.
Q But is it fair to say that you would not welcome the participation of other nations in that conflict at this point?
MR. EARNEST: Again, I can’t talk about specific military actions that are reported or maybe being contemplated by other countries. But just as a general matter, it’s our view that outside interference is counterproductive, because it exacerbates tensions that already exist in that country and undermines the democratic institutions -- admittedly fledgling democratic institutions, but democratic institutions nonetheless in that country.
Q Josh, I know that you’re not going to say exclusively, but can you give us some idea of where the President is in thinking and the decision on airstrikes?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Roger, as you know, the President has already ordered airstrikes that are underway in Iraq, that are aimed at a couple of specific goals; one is the protection of Americans in Iraq, and they were also deployed to avert a humanitarian disaster and a genocide there.
Q I’m talking about Syria.
MR. EARNEST: As it relates to Syria, the President hasn’t made any decisions. And I’m not in a position to give you an update in terms of where the President’s current thinking is on this, other than to point out that our strategy on this, for dealing with this situation, does not rely solely on the American military. I mean, the thing that’s important to remember here is, at the risk of putting too fine a point on it, the previous administration tried relying only on our military. And sending 140,000 American servicemen and women to Iraq for a prolonged period of time had an impact on the security situation in Iraq -- there is no question about that -- for the positive.
But it was not -- it certainly was not the policy of the Bush administration or of the Obama administration to leave those American troops -- and there were hundreds of thousands of them, or more than a hundred thousand of them -- there permanently. And what we saw is that the Iraq’s political leaders didn’t seize the opportunity to capitalize on that stabilized security situation. And because of the failure of Iraq’s political leadership, we saw that that country was very vulnerable to the influence and to the attacks of violent extremists.
And let me just go back to this, because this is important. That’s why it’s so important for us to build up effective partners in the region -- because for all of our efforts, they’re only undermined if there aren’t effective partners in the region and in these countries that can take responsibility for providing security for their own people. And that is why the President is so cognizant of this idea that we can’t rely only on American military might. Of course, the American military has tremendous capabilities that can influence these kinds of situations. But for a sustainable solution we’re going to need effective partners both in the form of effective governments where these actions are taking place, but also the constructive contribution of other regional governments that have a clear interest and a vested stake in the outcome.
Q When you say the strategy doesn’t rely solely on the military, that’s a reference to the need for partners, is that correct?
MR. EARNEST: That is a reference to the way in which we’re going to confront the threat that’s posed by ISIL, and the need for us to build up an effective partner in the Iraq government, but also the effective contribution -- or the constructive contribution of other governments in the region.
Q Can I clarify on -- the current military campaign in Iraq is based, in your all’s view, on the President’s inherent Commander-in-Chief powers, not on any previous authorization to use military force, either in 2001 or 2002? Is that right? In other words, not the Iraq resolution and not the post-9/11 resolution?
MR. EARNEST: The current military action that has been ordered in Iraq is vested in the powers as the Commander-in-Chief. And we have filed war powers notifications demonstrating our commitment to coordinating with Congress as we deploy that power.
It has been our policy that -- and the President talked about this in a speech he gave earlier this year about his view that the current Iraq AUMF, authorization to use military force, needed to be changed because it was so broad. But as it relates to the military actions that are underway, those are actions that are underway -- or that have been authorized under the President’s powers as Commander-in-Chief.
For a more detailed analysis, I don’t want to go too much farther here. We’re sort of -- we’re reaching the limits of my knowledge on this, because it’s complicated and I want to make sure we get this right.
Q Is it the White House’s theory, then, that inherent power would be enough to go across the border into Syria as well? If you expand what you’re doing against the same enemy, is it the same authorization -- authority that you guys are relying on? Or would you be using the 2001 one, which is what you do use in Somalia and Yemen and other places like that that use drone strikes, that kind of thing?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what we have said about this, Peter, is we have not speculated about what sort of authority would be required from Congress if the President were to make a decision to authorize military -- the use of military force in Syria. Since he hasn’t made that decision, we haven’t talked about what sort of authority he may or may not use if he were to make that decision. We just haven’t sort of speculated that far.
It’s a legitimate question, and if we reach the point where the President does make a decision to use military force in Syria, then that will open up an additional set of questions that you’re raising right now. But we haven’t attempted to answer them at this point because the President has not made a decision to authorize military force in Syria.
Q But you all make a distinction between this potential action and last year, when you asked Congress to weigh in -- not that you said Congress had to weigh in; you thought you had the authority even without Congress last year, but you said you wanted them to weigh in, to have a sense of consensus, right? But you make a distinction between the retaliatory strikes you contemplated last year and these kind of intervention, which would be a different type. Is that right?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the goals of those two missions -- the goal of the mission from last year was aimed squarely at the Assad regime and was in response to the intel assessment that they had used chemical weapons against innocent civilians.
The situation a year later is markedly different. What we’re talking about now is confronting a terrorist group that has sought a safe haven in Syria. This is a group that poses a threat to Americans in the region and could potentially, down the line, pose a broader threat to American interests and our allies around the globe. So the situations are somewhat different.
Now, what the ramifications of those differences are for our -- for some of the legalistic questions that you’re asking are important. But these are questions that I don't have answers for right now just because the President, like I said, hasn’t made a decision to authorize this military action in Syria.
Q One last question on this. Do you have any sense of the timetable? He’s meeting with Secretary Kerry today. How important is that meeting?
MR. EARNEST: The President confers on a regular basis with the Secretary of State. They typically will meet on a weekly basis when the Secretary of State is in Washington, which is rare these days. He’s putting a lot of miles on the airplane. But I would anticipate that they will discuss a range of issues in that meeting, including our ongoing efforts to face down the threat that's posed by ISIL.
But in terms of whether or not there’s a presidential decision that will come directly out of this meeting, I’m not in a position to say.
Q But I just meant, like are we -- are we talking about days? Are we talking about weeks? I mean, he didn't move that quickly on Iraq, right? He came out in June and said, I’m contemplating airstrikes, but he didn't move until August when he felt the circumstances had changed.
MR. EARNEST: Well, it’s fair to say that the President is watching the situation very closely, as are the other elements of his national security team. Some of that is because there is already kinetic military action that's underway in Iraq at the President’s direction. So this is something that has his close attention. But I wouldn’t prejudge at this point when the President would act, or even at this point if he will act.
Q -- options yesterday in the meeting with Secretary Hagel?
MR. EARNEST: I’m sorry?
Q The President hasn’t made a decision, but was he presented with options in the meeting with Secretary Hagel yesterday?
MR. EARNEST: I’m just not in a position to get into the details of those discussions.
Did you have a question?
Q Yes, I was just -- anything imminent on it?
MR. EARNEST: I just don't have an update on the timing.
Q Josh, there are reports today that Ukraine took Russian soldiers the day after the ambassador -- the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine sent out a tweet that was very solidly against Russia’s incursion into Ukraine. Can you comment on that? I mean, on the fact that Ukraine has soldiers and what the President thinks should be done at this point.
MR. EARNEST: Well, our posture on this remains that we are disappointed that President Putin and the Russians have not used their influence to deescalate this situation. And in fact, what we have seen are repeated provocations by the Russian regime to further escalate tensions in the region. And whether that's moving humanitarian convoys across the border into eastern Ukraine without the consent of the Ukrainian government, that certainly represents a pretty flagrant escalation of this situation.
There are also a number of reports that the Russians are now actively moving military hardware across the border. That's something they’ve been doing for some time, and there are some indications that the pace of those movements have increased. We’ve actually asked President Putin to do the opposite. We’ve actually asked him to use his influence to try to deescalate the situation and to convince pro-Russian separatists to actually lay down arms and to negotiate with the legitimate government of Ukraine to resolve this situation.
So the Russian regime has faced sanctions from the international community, and their economy has borne some costs as a result of their actions in Ukraine. And by continuing to ramp up that activity, they make the imposition of additional costs even more likely.
Q Is the President pessimistic about the meeting today between Poroshenko and Putin?
MR. EARNEST: I haven’t asked him about that specific meeting, but we certainly will be interested to learn about those discussions. And I’m confident that U.S. officials will be in touch with the Ukrainians to hear their takeaways from that meeting.
Q Josh, was the White House aware that Vice President Biden was doing these photo-line fundraisers with congressional candidates tacked onto official trips or other campaign trips and not announcing them publicly?
MR. EARNEST: I will say that I know that -- well, let me say that I read your story in Politico today, so I’m now aware of them.
Q We got a reader. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: There’s at least one, right? (Laughter.) What I’ll say is that the Vice President’s political activities are obviously very closely coordinated with the political activities of the President and other senior members of the West Wing. So the President and Vice President are spending a lot of time and energy supporting Democrats who are on the ballot this fall, and they’ll continue to do that.
What I would observe is I don’t think that there is a significant difference between the Vice President, for example, doing photo lines, where he doesn’t do formal remarks, in support of Democratic fundraising activities, and the President convening roundtables with donors to Democratic Party causes to discuss his support for Democrats in the fall elections.
There isn’t press access for either of those things, because in neither case is the President or the Vice President delivering formal remarks. But I do think that they are indicative of this administration’s desire to support the campaigns of Democratic candidates who are eager to support the President’s agenda and support the plight of middle-class families in the Congress.
Q And is the President doing any events like that where he’s doing photo lines attached to events for Democratic donors that aren’t on the public schedule?
MR. EARNEST: I know the President typically does photo lines in conjunction with fundraising events. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of an example in which the President has done a photo line without doing a more formal fundraising event. I wouldn’t -- that’s not a definitive thing, because it’s off the top of my head, but if he’s done any of those he’s not done very many.
Q Josh, is Senator Hagan -- I didn’t see -- is the Senator on the plane? Is she meeting the President on the tarmac? What’s the deal today?
MR. EARNEST: She is not on the plane. I understand that she’s been in North Carolina for the August recess. And I understand that both Senator Burr and Senator Hagan will meet the President on arrival at the airport in Charlotte.
Q Will he travel in with them to the convention?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know what their travel plans are. You should check with them. I believe that both senators, however, are addressing the convention at some point while the convention is in town.
Q Hagan had some pretty harsh comments on the President, in her statement last Friday -- I’m sure you saw it. Do you have a reaction on that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Senator Hagan is certainly an independent voice for the people of North Carolina, and that means that she doesn’t always agree with President Obama on a range of issues. But Senator Hagan has demonstrated that she is a dedicated advocate for America’s veterans. President Obama is, too. And I’m confident that that means that they’ll have an opportunity to work together, because they both believe it’s a priority to make sure that we’re living up to our covenant with America’s veterans.
Q Is the President concerned about potentially being a drag on Senator Hagan as she runs for reelection in November?
MR. EARNEST: No. The President, over the course of the last two elections, has performed -- has out-performed expectations in North Carolina. He obviously narrowly won North Carolina in 2008; fell just a little short in 2012. But that demonstrates that the President has a pretty deep reservoir of political support here in North Carolina.
The people of North Carolina -- the North Carolina economy in particular is one that benefits from the kinds of policies that the President is championing in Washington, D.C. Everything from investments in R&D have a significant economic benefit in areas like the research triangle. Immigration reform is something that would certainly benefit -- strongly benefit the North Carolina economy. So there are any number of reasons why the President has strong support here in the state of North Carolina. And if there’s an opportunity for the President to lend some of that support to Senator Hagan’s campaign, then he won’t hesitate to do it. But based, again, on my reading of Politico and other news organizations that are carefully covering the North Carolina Senate race, it sounds like Senator Hagan is doing a pretty darn good job of making a case for herself right now.
Anybody else? Okay, thanks, guys. We’ll see you on the ground.
11:06 A.M. EDT
President Barack Obama today announced the designation of a Presidential Delegation to Ankara, Turkey to attend the Inauguration of His Excellency Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President-elect of the Republic of Turkey on August 28, 2014.
Mr. Jess L. Baily, Chargé d’Affaires a.i. of the Embassy of the United States to the Republic of Turkey, will attend the Inauguration.
WASHINGTON, DC – On September 15, 2014, President Barack Obama will award the Medal of Honor to Army Command Sergeant Major Bennie G. Adkins and to Army Specialist Four Donald P. Sloat for conspicuous gallantry.
Command Sergeant Major Adkins will receive the Medal of Honor for his actions while serving as an Intelligence Sergeant assigned to Detachment A-102, 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces. Then-Sergeant First Class Adkins distinguished himself during combat operations at Camp A Shau, Republic of Vietnam, on March 9 through March 12, 1966.
Specialist Four Donald P. Sloat will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions while serving as a Machine gunner with Company D, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division. Specialist Four Sloat distinguished himself during combat operations in the vicinity of Hawk Hill Fire Base, Republic of Vietnam, on January 17, 1970.
President Obama also approved the awarding of the Medal of Honor to Army First Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing for gallantry in action at the battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. Additional details on the award to First Lieutenant Cushing will be announced separately.
First Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions while serving as commanding officer of Battery A, 4th United States Artillery, Artillery Brigade, 2nd Corps, Army of the Potomac. Cushing distinguished himself during combat operations against an armed enemy in the vicinity of Cemetery Ridge, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on July 3, 1863.
Command Sergeant Major Adkins joined the Army in 1956, at the age of 22. He served in the 2nd Infantry Division until leaving to join Special Forces in 1961. He deployed to Vietnam three times between February 1963 and December 1971; the actions for which he will receive the Medal of Honor took place during his second tour.
After Vietnam, Command Sergeant Major Adkins served approximately two years as First Sergeant for the Army Garrison Communications Command in Fort Huachuca, Arizona. He then joined Class #3 of the Army Sergeants Major Academy in El Paso, Texas. After graduation, he served with Special Forces at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and then led training at Fort Sherman’s Jungle School in the Panama Canal Zone. He retired from the Army in 1978.
Command Sergeant Major Adkins and his wife of 59 years, Mary Adkins, currently reside in Opelika, Alabama. They will both attend the Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House.
Specialist Four Sloat entered the Army on March 19, 1969 from Coweta, Oklahoma. After completing his training, he was assigned as an M60 Machine Gunner, to 3rd Platoon, Delta Company, 2/1 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division, in the Republic of Vietnam.
Specialist Four Sloat was killed in action on Jan. 17, 1970, at the age of 20. On that day, his squad was conducting a patrol, when one of the Soldiers triggered a hand grenade trap placed in their path by enemy forces. Specialist Four Sloat picked up the live grenade, initially to throw it away. However, when he realized that detonation was imminent, he chose to shield its blast with his own body, sacrificing his own life to save the lives of three of his fellow Soldiers.
Dr. William Sloat of Enid, Oklahoma, will join the President at the White House to accept the Medal of Honor on his brother’s behalf.
First Lieutenant Cushing graduated, and was commissioned, from the United States Military Academy at West Point in the class of June 1861. Born in what is now Delafield, Wisconsin, he was raised in Fredonia, New York. Cushing was the commander of Battery A, 4th United States Artillery, Artillery Brigade, 2nd Corps, Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg.
First Lieutenant Cushing was killed in action on July 3, 1863, at the age of 22. On that day, the third day of the battle, in the face of Longstreet’s Assault, also known as Pickett’s Charge, First Lieutenant Cushing’s battery took a severe pounding by Confederate artillery. As the rebel infantry advanced, he manned the only remaining, and serviceable, field piece in his battery. During the advance, he was wounded in the stomach as well as in the right shoulder. Refusing to evacuate to the rear despite his severe wounds, he directed the operation of his lone field piece continuing to fire in the face of the enemy. With the rebels within 100 yards of his position, Cushing was shot and killed during this heroic stand. His actions made it possible for the Union Army to successfully repulse the Confederate assault. First Lieutenant Cushing is buried with full honors at his alma mater, West Point.
THE MEDAL OF HONOR:
The Medal of Honor is awarded to members of the Armed Forces who distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry above and beyond the call of duty while:
The meritorious conduct must involve great personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his or her comrades and must have involved risk of life. There must be incontestable proof of the performance of the meritorious conduct, and each recommendation for the award must be considered on the standard of extraordinary merit.
Charlotte Convention Center
Charlotte, North Carolina
12:07 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Please, everybody, have a seat. Hello, Legionnaires!
THE PRESIDENT: I want to thank Commander Dellinger for the introduction, but more importantly, for your service in the Army. And as you conclude your tenure as Commander, thank you for your tireless commitment to America's veterans.
I want to thank the entire leadership team for welcoming me here today, including your National Adjutant, Dan Wheeler; your Executive Director in Washington, Peter Gaytan; Nancy Brown-Park, all the spouses, daughters -- (applause) -- hey! -- sisters of the Auxiliary, and the Sons of the American Legion. (Applause.) And let me say that I join you in honoring the memory of a friend to many of you -- an Army veteran and a great Legionnaire from North Carolina, Jerry Hedrick. (Applause.)
To Senators Richard Burr and Kay Hagan, Mayor Dan Clodfelter -- thank you for welcoming us to the great state of North Carolina and to Charlotte, and for your great support of our troops and our veterans.
And I do have to mention the President of Boys Nation --Matthew Ellow, from Lacey's Spring, Alabama. I welcomed Matthew and all the incredible young people of Boys and Girls Nation to the White House last month. I was running a little bit late, so they just started singing, filling the White House with patriotic songs. And then they sang Happy Birthday to me, so I was pretty moved. And they're a tribute to the Legion and to our country.
I've brought with me today our new Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Bob McDonald. (Applause.) And for those of you who are not aware, Bob is one of America's most accomplished business leaders. He comes from a military family. He excelled at West Point, served as an Army Airborne Ranger -- so he's got a reputation for jumping into tough situations. (Laughter.) And he's hit the ground running, visiting hospitals and clinics across the country, hearing directly from veterans and helping us change the way the VA does business. And by the way, Washington doesn't agree on much these days, but he got confirmed 97 to 0. (Applause.) People understand he’s the right man for the job. He has my full support. And, Bob, I want to thank you for once again serving your country. (Applause.)
It’s an honor to be back with the American Legion. In the story of your service we see the spirit of America. When your country needed you most, you stepped forward. You raised your right hand, you swore a solemn oath. You put on that uniform and earned the title you carry to this day -- whether Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, Coast Guardsman.
Among you are proud veterans of World War II; of Korea; of Vietnam; of Desert Storm and the Balkans; and our newest veterans -- from Iraq and Afghanistan. Across the generations, you served with honor. You made us proud. And you carry the memory of friends who never came home -- our fallen, our prisoners of war, those missing in action -- heroes that our nation can never forget.
When you took off that uniform, you earned another title --the title of veteran. And you never stopped serving. As Legionnaires, you put on that cap, wore that emblem -- "for God and country" -- and took care of one another, making sure our veterans receive the care and the benefits that you’ve earned and deserve.
And just as you defended America over there, you helped build America here at home -- as leaders and role models in your communities, as entrepreneurs and business owners, as champions for a strong national defense. You helped the United States of America become what we are today -- the greatest democratic, economic, and military force for freedom and human dignity that the world has ever known.
Now, these are challenging times. I don't have to tell you that. Around the world as well as here at home. You turn on the TV and we're saturated with heartbreaking images of war and senseless violence and terrorism and tragedy. And it can be easy to grow cynical or give in to the sense that the future we seek is somehow beyond our reach. But as men and women who have been tested like few others, you should know better. You know that cynicism is not the character of a great nation. And so, even as we face, yes, the hard tasks of our time, we should never lose sight of our progress as a people or the strength of our leadership in the world.
Think about it -- six years after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression -- in some ways, the crisis had the potential of being worse than the Great Depression -- thanks to the decisions we made to rescue our economy, thanks to the determination of the American people, we are stronger at home. Over the past 53 months, our businesses have added nearly 10 million new jobs -- the longest streak of private sector job creation in American history. Construction and housing are rebounding. Our auto industry and manufacturing are booming. Our high school graduation rate is at a record high. More young people are earning their college degrees than ever before. Millions more Americans now have quality, affordable health care. We've cut the deficit by more than half. And now we have to sustain this momentum so more people share in this progress, so our economy works for every working American.
And just as we're stronger at home, the United States is better positioned to lead in the 21st century than any nation on Earth. It’s not even close. We have the most powerful military in history -- that’s certainly not close. From Europe to Asia, our alliances are unrivaled. Our economy is the most dynamic. We've got the best workers. We’ve got the best businesses. We have the best universities and the best scientists. With our domestic energy revolution, including more renewable energy, we're more energy independent. Our technologies connect the world. Our freedoms and opportunities attract immigrants who “yearn to breathe free.” Our founding ideals inspire the oppressed across the globe to reach for their own liberty. That’s who we are. That’s what America is.
And moreover, nobody else can do what we do. No other nation does more to underwrite the security and prosperity on which the world depends. In times of crisis, no other nation can rally such broad coalitions to stand up for international norms and peace. In times of disaster, no other nation has the capabilities to deliver so much so quickly. No nation does more to help citizens claim their rights and build their democracies. No nation does more to help people in the far corners of the Earth escape poverty and hunger and disease, and realize their dignity. Even countries that criticize us, when the chips are down and they need help, they know who to call -- they call us. That's what American leadership looks like. That's why the United States is and will remain the one indispensable nation in the world.
Now, sustaining our leadership, keeping America strong and secure, means we have to use our power wisely. History teaches us of the dangers of overreaching, and spreading ourselves too thin, and trying to go it alone without international support, or rushing into military adventures without thinking through the consequences. And nobody knows this better than our veterans and our families -- our veteran families, because you’re the ones who bear the wages of war. You’re the ones who carry the scars. You know that we should never send America's sons and daughters into harm's way unless it is absolutely necessary and we have a plan, and we are resourcing it and prepared to see it through. (Applause.) You know the United States has to lead with strength and confidence and wisdom.
And that's why, after incredible sacrifice by so many of our men and women in uniform, we removed more than 140,000 troops from Iraq and welcomed those troops home. It was the right thing to do. It's why we refocused our efforts in Afghanistan and went after al Qaeda's leadership in the tribal regions in Afghanistan and Pakistan, driving the Taliban out of its strongholds, and training Afghan forces, which are now in the lead for their own security. In just four months, we will complete our combat mission in Afghanistan and America's longest war will come to a responsible end. And we honor every American who served to make this progress possible -- (applause) -- every single one, especially the more than 2,200 American patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan to keep us safe.
And now, as Afghans continue to work towards the first democratic transfer of power in their history, Afghan leaders need to make the hard compromises that are necessary to give the Afghan people a future of security and progress. And as we go forward, we'll continue to partner with Afghans so their country can never again be used to launch attacks against the United States. (Applause.)
Now, as I've always made clear, the blows we've struck against al Qaeda's leadership don’t mean the end to the terrorist threat. Al Qaeda affiliates still target our homeland -- we've seen that in Yemen. Other extremists threaten our citizens abroad, as we've seen most recently in Iraq and Syria. As Commander-in-Chief, the security of the American people is my highest priority, and that's why, with the brutal terrorist group ISIL advancing in Iraq, I have authorized targeted strikes to protect our diplomats and military advisors who are there. (Applause.)
And let me say it again: American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq. I will not allow the United States to be dragged back into another ground war in Iraq. Because ultimately, it is up to the Iraqis to bridge their differences and secure themselves. (Applause.) The limited strikes we're conducting have been necessary to protect our people, and have helped Iraqi forces begin to push back these terrorists. We’ve also been able to rescue thousands of men and women and children who were trapped on a mountain. And our airdrops of food and water and medicine show American leadership at our best. And we salute the brave pilots and crews who are making us proud in the skies of Iraq every single day. (Applause.)
And more broadly, the crisis in Iraq underscores how we have to meet today's evolving terrorist threat. The answer is not to send in large-scale military deployments that overstretch our military, and lead for us occupying countries for a long period of time, and end up feeding extremism. Rather, our military action in Iraq has to be part of a broader strategy to protect our people and support our partners to take the fight to ISIL.
So we’re strengthening our partners -- more military assistance to government and Kurdish forces in Iraq and moderate opposition in Syria. We're urging Iraqis to forge the kind of inclusive government that can deliver on national unity, and strong security forces and good governance that are ultimately going to be the antidote against terrorists. And we're urging countries in the region and building an international coalition, including our closest allies, to support Iraqis as they take the fight to these barbaric terrorists.
Today, our prayers are with the Foley family in New Hampshire as they continue to grieve the brutal murder of their son and brother Jim. But our message to anyone who harms our people is simple: America does not forget. Our reach is long. We are patient. Justice will be done. We have proved time and time again we will do what’s necessary to capture those who harm Americans -- (applause) -- to go after those who harm Americans. (Applause.)
And we’ll continue to take direct action where needed to protect our people and to defend our homeland. And rooting out a cancer like ISIL won't be easy and it won't be quick. But tyrants and murderers before them should recognize that kind of hateful vision ultimately is no match for the strength and hopes of people who stand together for the security and dignity and freedom that is the birthright of every human being.
So even as our war in Afghanistan comes to an end, we will stay vigilant. We will continue to make sure that our military has what it needs. And as today's generation of servicemembers keeps us safe, and as they come home, we also have to meet our responsibilities to them, just as they meet their responsibilities to America. (Applause.)
When I was here at the Legion three years ago, I said that the bond between our forces and our citizens has to be a sacred trust, and that for me, for my administration, upholding our trust with our veterans is not just a matter of policy, it is a moral obligation.
And working together, we have made real progress. Think about it. Working with the Legion and other veterans service organizations, we’ve been able to accomplish historic increases to veterans funding. We’ve protected veterans health care from Washington politics with advanced appropriations. We’ve been able to make VA benefits available to more than 2 million veterans who didn't have them before, including more Vietnam vets who were exposed to Agent Orange. (Applause.) We’ve dedicated major new resources for mental health care. We’ve helped more than 1 million veterans and their families pursue their education under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
And moreover, as the Legion and other veterans groups have said, once veterans get in the door the care you receive from the VA is often very good. The specialized care is among the best in the world. And many of the hardworking folks at the VA are veterans themselves -- veterans serving veterans. And we can never thank them enough for their good work.
But what we’ve come to learn is that the misconduct we've seen at too many facilities -- with long wait times, and veterans denied care, and folks cooking the books -- is outrageous and inexcusable. (Applause.)
As soon as it was disclosed, I got before the American people and I said we would not tolerate it. And we will not. And I know the Legion has been on the frontlines, fanning out across the country, helping veterans who've been affected. And I know Bob is going to give you an update on the actions that we're taking. But what I want you to know, directly from me, is that we're focused on this at the highest levels. We are going to get to the bottom of these problems. We're going to fix what is wrong. We're going to do right by you, and we are going to do right by your families. And that is a solemn pledge and commitment that I’m making to you here. (Applause.)
Already we're making sure that those responsible for manipulating or falsifying records are held accountable. We're reaching out to veterans -- more than a quarter million so far -- to get them off wait lists and into clinics. We're moving ahead with reforms at the Veterans Health Administration. And to help get that done, you supported, and Congress passed, and I signed into law the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, which means more resources to help the VA hire more doctors and nurses and staff. It means if you live more than 40 miles from a VA facility, or your VA doctors can't see you fast enough, we'll help you go to a doctor outside the VA.
And we're instituting a new culture of accountability. Bob doesn't play. Bob likes to recall a cadet prayer from West Point, which should be the ethos of all of us: "Choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong." And with the new legislation that I signed into law, Bob and the VA now have the authority to more quickly remove senior executives who don't meet our high standards. If you engage in unethical practices, or cover up a serious problem, you should be and will be fired. (Applause.)
And by the way, if you blow the whistle on higher-ups because you’ve identified a legitimate problem, you shouldn't be punished, you should be protected. (Applause.)
So my bottom line is this: Despite all the good work that the VA does every day, despite all the progress that we’ve made over the last several years, we are very clear-eyed about the problems that are still there. And those problems require us to regain the trust of our veterans, and live up to our vision of a VA that is more effective and more efficient and that truly puts veterans first. And I will not be satisfied until that happens. (Applause.)
And we're in the midst of a new wave of veterans -- more than a million servicemembers returning to civilian life. So we have to do more to uphold that sacred trust not just this year or next year, but for decades to come. We’re going to have to stay focused on the five priorities that I outlined last year. And I just want to reiterate them for you just so you know what it is that we’re committing to.
Number one, we need to make sure our veterans have the resources you deserve. And the new funding we just helped -- we just passed with the help of Senators Burr and Kay, that helps. But as you know, it's not enough. Even in these tough fiscal times, I've, therefore, proposed another increase in veterans funding for next year. And I'll continue to resist any effort to exploit the recent problems at the VA to turn veterans health care into a voucher system. We don’t need vouchers. You need VA health care that you have earned and that you can depend on. (Applause.) We need to make the system work.
Second, we need to make sure veterans are actually getting the health care you need when you need it. Reforming the VHA and more doctors and staff is a good step. But with this new wave of veterans, 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. (Applause.) 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. (Applause.) As a country, we can’t stand idly by on such tragedy.
So we're doing even more -- more than ever -- more awareness, more outreach, more access to mental health care. So long as any servicemember 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. And we all know we need to do more. Veterans called for it. We heard you -- which is why today I'm announcing 19 new executive actions to help improve mental health care for those American heroes and their families. (Applause.)
So just one example: 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. We'll improve access to care, with more peer support -- veterans counseling veterans -- at VA hospitals and clinics. We're calling on Congress to help us ensure that our troops get coverage for mental health care that's on par with the coverage for other medical conditions. And we’re going to make it easier for servicemembers 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.
And maybe most of all, we're going to keep saying loud and clear to anyone out there who's hurting, it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help; it is a sign of strength. Talk to a friend. Pick up the phone. You are not alone. We are here for you. And every American needs to know if you see someone in uniform or a veteran who is struggling, reach out and help them to get help. They were there for America. We now need to be there for them. (Applause.)
Our third priority: We have to keep attacking the disability claims backlog. Now, the good news is, since its peak last year, we've worked with you to slash the backlog by more than 50 percent. There had been a surge in the backlog in part because of an influx of new veterans; in part because we opened it up for folks who had PTSD, folks with Agent Orange symptoms. And now we’ve had to work that backlog back down. The trend lines are good. But we don't just want those claims processed fast; we need to make sure they get processed right.
So we're going to keep at this until we end this backlog once and for all. And as we do, we're going to keep working to liberate you from those mountains of paper. We’ve got to move towards a paperless system -- electronic health records that our troops and veterans can keep for life, and that could cut down on some of the bureaucratic red tape so that you’re getting the benefits that you’ve earned a little bit faster. (Applause.)
Number four: We need to uphold the dignity and rights of every veteran, and that includes ending the tragedy of homelessness among veterans. (Applause.) Again, we’ve got good news to report. 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. (Applause.) And that means on any given night, there are 25,000 fewer veterans on the streets or in shelters. But we're not going to stop until every veteran who has defended America has a home in America. That’s a basic commitment that we have to uphold. (Applause.)
And finally, we need to make sure our troops and veterans have every opportunity to pursue the American Dream. That includes a home of their own. You know, under the law, our servicemembers are entitled to reduced mortgage rates, but the burden is on them to ask for it and prove they're eligible, which means a lot of folks don’t get the low rates they deserve.
So, today, we're turning that around. We're announcing a new partnership in which some of America's biggest banks and financial institutions will simplify the process, proactively notify servicemembers who qualify for lower rates and make it easier to enroll. In other words, we're going to help more of our troops and military families own their own home without a crushing debt. (Applause.)
We're also going to keep helping our troops transition to civilian life. Because of the work we’ve done together, if you already have a military truck driver's license, every state now waives the skills test so it's easier for you to get a commercial driver's license. (Applause.) And we're going to keep pushing more states to recognize the incredible skills and training of our veterans. If you could do a job in a warzone, if you’re a medic in a warzone, you shouldn’t have to go take nursing 101 to work in a hospital here in the United States. (Applause.) If you can handle million-dollar pieces of equipment in a warzone, that should count for something in getting certified back here at home. If you can do the kinds of jobs so many of you have done in the most extreme circumstances, I’m pretty confident you can do that job right here at home. (Applause.)
To help our troops and veterans pursue their education, we worked with loan servicers to automatically cap interest rates on student loans to our servicemembers at 6 percent. For veterans going back to school under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, we'll keep standing up against dishonest recruiting and predatory practices that target and prey on you and your families. So far, about 6,000 colleges and universities have pledged to adhere to our principles of excellence, promising to do right by our veterans. And more than a thousand colleges and universities have adopted our "8 Keys" to make sure that they’re truly welcoming veterans and helping them succeed on campus. And by the way, every school in America should join them. You should be proud if you’re educating a veteran, and you should be doing right by them. (Applause.)
And we're going to keep helping our veterans find those private sector jobs worthy of your incredible talents. Our new online Veterans Employment Center is a single one-stop shop connecting veterans and their spouses to more than 1.5 million jobs that are open right now. And we're joining with states and local leaders to identify nearly two dozen cities and regions with the most opportunities for veterans. And with Michelle and Dr. Jill Biden leading the call, America's businesses are joining forces to hire or train veterans and spouses -- more than half a million so far, and growing.
So veterans’ unemployment is going down, and it's now actually lower than the national average. It was higher to begin with, and we have been driving it down. But we’ve got more to go, especially for our post-9/11 veterans. So we’re going to keep saying to every business in America, if you want somebody who knows how to get the job done, no matter the mission, hire a veteran. Hire a vet. (Applause.)
So fixing what's broken at the VA; ensuring the resources you deserve; delivering the health care that you've earned; eliminating the backlog; standing up for your rights and dignity; helping you realize the American Dream that you so honorably defended -- these are our commitments to you. This is what we're focused on. This is what we can do together -- especially as our war in Afghanistan comes to an end and we welcome home our newest veterans.
There are a lot of them here tonight. We salute Captain Scott Miller of Indiana, a proud Hoosier and a proud Marine. In Afghanistan, he went out on dangerous patrols, traveling to remote villages, meeting with tribal elders, building trust, forging partnerships to push back insurgents. And here at the Legion, he continues to serve by encouraging businesses across America to give back to the veterans who defended our way of life and make our prosperity possible. So thank you, Scott. Where is Scott here today? (Applause.) We are proud of him. There here is.
We salute Master Sergeant Carol Barker of Greensboro, North Carolina. As a first sergeant of her medevac unit, she was responsible for more than a hundred troops, helped save the lives of our wounded warriors in those critical first hours when life so often hung in the balance. And here at the Legion, she continues to serve, helping homeless veterans come in off the streets, and begin their lives anew with a roof over their heads. Thank you, Carol. Where’s Carol? (Applause.)
We salute Sergeant Joe Grassi, who grew up just outside New York City. After his hometown was attacked on 9/11, he left his civilian job, he joined the Army. A squad leader in Afghanistan, he spent most of his time on the flight line, in the 120-degree heat, supplying our helicopter crews. And here at the Legion, he continues to serve, helping veterans complete their disability claims, and raising his voice in Washington for a strong national defense, because, he says, "Some things are worth fighting for. America is worth fighting for." Thank you, Joe. We’re proud of you. Thank you, sir. (Applause.)
Scott, Carol, Joe -- they're among the patriots here today who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. And I would ask all our Post-9/11 Generation veterans to stand if you are able and accept the thanks of a grateful nation. I ask these men and women to stand because the American people have to know that even as our war in Afghanistan comes to an end, our obligation to this generation of veterans has only just begun. And this cannot just be the work of government and veterans groups alone. I want every American to take this commitment seriously. Please stand, Post-9/11 Generation, all of you who’ve served in Afghanistan and Iraq. We’re grateful for you. (Applause.)
This is not just a job of government. It’s not just a job of the veterans’ organizations. Every American needs to join us in taking care of those who've taken care of us. Because only 1 percent of Americans may be fighting our wars, but 100 percent of Americans benefit from that 1 percent. A hundred percent need to be supporting our troops. A hundred percent need to be supporting our veterans. A hundred percent need to be supporting our military families. (Applause.)
And everybody can do something. Every American. Every business. Every profession. Every school. Every community. Every state. All of us, as one American team. That's how we will truly honor our veterans. That's how we will truly say thank you. That's how we will uphold the sacred trust with all who've served in our name.
God bless you. God bless our veterans. God bless the United States of America. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
12:41 P.M. EDT
Today, President Obama will address the American Legion’s 96th convention and outline the five priorities the Administration is focused on to ensure we are fulfilling our promises to service members, veterans and their families: delivering the quality health care veterans have been promised; ensuring all veterans have every opportunity to pursue the American Dream; providing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with the resources our veterans deserve; protecting the dignity and rights of all veterans; and eliminating the decades-old disability claims backlog.
The President will announce 19 new executive actions to serve the military community, including new efforts to strengthen service members’ access to mental health care. The President will also highlight efforts to improve the transition between DoD and VA care for those leaving military service, and improve economic opportunity for our military families with new private-sector commitments that will make it easier to obtain mortgage interest rate reductions and reduced monthly payments – helping more of our troops save money through lower monthly payments. The President will also announce that the Administration is continuing to make significant progress toward reducing the number of veterans who suffer from homelessness. Over the past four years a third of homeless veterans, nearly 25,000, have moved off the streets, out of shelters and into housing. The President will also renew his call for community action -- asking every American to do their part to support our service members, Veterans, and their families.
All of these announcements, including the new executive actions and progress being made on existing efforts, reflect the commitment of the President and his administration to expanding opportunity for those who sacrifice so much to serve our country:our service members, veterans and their families.
Delivering the Health Care Veterans Have Been Promised
Access to Quality VA Healthcare
The President and VA are committed to ensuring that veterans have access to the timely, high-quality health care that they have earned and deserve. Over the last several months, we have seen inexcusable delays in care at some VA health care facilities. We have taken a number of steps already to change the way VA does business to ensure that this never happens again, and we will keep at it as long as it takes.
Veterans Mental Health
The President will announce 19 new executive actions to improve the mental health of service members, veterans, and their families, which builds on the progress the Administration has made since the President’s 2012 (Mental Health) Executive Order. In response to the 2012 Executive Order, VA has increased its mental health staffing, expanded the capacity of the Veterans Crisis Line, and enhanced its partnerships with community mental health providers; DoD and VA worked to increase suicide prevention awareness and, DoD, VA and the National Institutes of Health jointly developed the National Research Action Plan on military and veteran’s mental health to better coordinate federal research efforts. The new mental health executive actions will fall under the following six categories:
For the full list of executive actions, click HERE.
HEALTH CARE PROVIDERS ANSWER THE PRESIDENT’S CALL TO ACTION
The American Nurses Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American Nurses Association, is launching an innovative web-based PTSD Toolkit for registered nurses – all 3.1 million of them. The toolkit provides easy to access information and simulation based on gaming techniques on how to identify, assess and refer veterans suffering from PTSD. www.nurseptsdtoolkit.org
In collaboration with First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden’s Joining Forcesinitiative, the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) along with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), the American Academy of Nursing (AAN), Give an Hour, and many others will collaborate to deliver “Joining Forces Wellness Week 2014.” The week-long series of educational topics and programs will occur around Veterans Day. The cornerstone event will be a webinar focusing on military cultural competency, taking a military health history, generational differences in veterans, unique needs of guard and reserve personnel, and the needs of parents and family members of veterans.
Ensuring All Service Members Have Every Opportunity to Pursue the American Dream
President Obama will announce a new voluntary partnership with financial lenders across the country that will help deliver important financial and home loan-related protections to our military community. Congress passed the Service members Civil Relief Act (SCRA) in 2003 to provide protections for military members as they enter active duty. Our Service women and men have earned important financial protections under the law, but too many do not exercise these important rights. But when business and government work together we can make a difference.
Banks and Mortgage Servicers Answer the President’s Call to Action: Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., CitiMortgage, Inc., Bank of America, N.A., Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, and Quicken Loans are partnering with the Administration to make it easier than ever for active duty service members to obtain mortgage interest rate reductions and reduce their monthly payments. The partnership cuts red tape where possible and establishes concrete steps to reduce the burden on service members by having participating mortgage servicers proactively identify, notify and assist in enrolling eligible service members.
Key Provisions of the Partnership
Ensure Active-Duty Military Get the Student Debt Relief They Are Entitled to: In addition to the Administration’s efforts to work with banks and mortgage servicers to ensure service members have access to the benefits they are eligible under the SCRA, the Department of Education has directed its federal student loan servicers to match their student borrower portfolios against DoD’s database to identify active-duty service members who are eligible to cap interest rates on student loans – including federal student loans -- at 6 percent and to reduce those interest rates automatically for those eligible without the need for additional paperwork. This week, the Department released additional guidance to encourage Federal Education Loan program servicers to provide for a similar streamlined process.
Ensuring Veterans Have Access to a Quality Education
UNIVERSITIES & COLLEGES ANSWER THE PRESIDENT’S CALL TO ACTION
The President will announce that commitments to the 8 Keys to Veterans Success on Campus have increased to more than 1,000 community colleges and university campuses and he called on more educational institutions to join this effort. Last year, the President challenged to educational institutions to adopt best practices supporting educational success and fostering postsecondary educational opportunities for veterans. At that time, only 250 community colleges and universities had signed up.
Ensuring Veterans Have Access to Good-Paying Jobs
EMPLOYERS ANSWER THE PRESIDENT’S CALL TO ACTION
The President has emphasized the important role employers play in increasing economic opportunity for veterans through stable employment opportunities—not just because it’s good for veterans but because it’s good for the bottom line. He is calling for more employers and educational institutions to take on innovative veteran training partnerships. For example, corporate leaders like Blackstone have made veteran hiring a priority. Together with their portfolio company, Hilton Worldwide, they are partnering with Kendall College to develop a hotel management education and training program to provide transitioning service members and veterans on-the-job experience and an inside track to available jobs upon graduation from the program. All of this is bolstered by the veteran’s use of their GI Bill® benefits.
Protecting the Dignity and Rights of All Veterans
Ending Veteran Homelessness: President Obama will announce that the number of veterans who suffer from homelessness has dropped by a third over the past four years as nearly 25,000 veterans have moved into housing. This announcement follows the First Lady’s event in June, with HUD and VA, announcing the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. Through this Challenge, mayors, county executives, and governors are signing on to end veteran homelessness in their communities in 2015. To date, over 200 communities have signed on.
COMMUNITY PARTNERS ANSWER THE PRESIDENT’S CALL TO ACTION
There are over 4,000 homeless women veterans in our country today. These women veterans struggle to find employment and short and long-term housing, and subsequently may be faced with the unthinkable possibility of losing their children. The VA has entered into a public-private partnership with TriWest Healthcare Alliance to connect women veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, especially those with children, to the services and benefits that lead to employment. This effort will initially focus on five cities: Seattle, WA; Phoenix, AZ; San Francisco, CA; Los Angeles, CA; and Honolulu, HI. Partnerships in each city will be established among community leaders, employers, government and non-government organizations, and committed citizens who can work together, individually and collectively to help reduce barriers to employment for homeless women veterans and connect them with employment. The President will call for more public-private partnerships to help end veteran homelessness.
Two years ago, The National Guard Bureau announced their own community based effort last year, and launched Joining Community Forces to leverage their local community foot-print and family support centers to connect Guardsmen and Reservists of all services, Veterans and military families to local community based resources. They are re-doubling their efforts, and are challenging all 54 Guard Bureaus in that effort.
Ensuring that Veterans Affairs Has the Resources to Serve Our Veterans
On August 7, 2014, the President signed into law the bipartisan Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014. At a time of crisis, our Veteran and Military Family Service Organizations called the country and Congress to action. This legislation provides VA with additional resources to improve access and quality of care for Veterans. This law will help VA hire more doctors, nurses and other medical staff, as well as to provide needed additional space and modernize VA’s hospitals and clinics. It authorizes the new Veterans Choice program, which allows eligible Veterans to choose to use non-VA care when they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility or cannot be seen by a VA doctor within a reasonable amount of time. And finally, the law will give Secretary McDonald more authority to hold senior VA leaders accountable.
Ending the Disability Claims Backlog
Disability Claims Backlog Update
Improving quality and reducing the length of time it takes to process disability claims is integral to the Administration's mission of providing the care and benefits that Veterans have earned and deserve in a timely, accurate, and compassionate manner. Through initiatives supported by President Obama, VA has decreased the backlog by more than 50 percent since its peak in March 2013. Continuing this work in 2014, VA is implementing additional changes to the Veterans Benefits Management System to increase automation and integration, system-wide. Thanks to transformation initiatives and the creative and impactful partnerships with our VSOs like the Disabled American Veterans, VFW, The Legion and others, VA is on track to meet the President’s goal and eliminate the claims backlog by completing all claims in 125 days in 2015.
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