The Disabled American Veterans is the first vets group President Obama called when he ran for president. As such, it’s “fitting” his final address to veterans is here at the DAV, he said in a speech to the organization on Monday afternoon.
“As I reflect on the past eight years, some of the most unforgettable moments” were with you, Obama told the DAV.
In his address, Obama listed several accomplishments he says both our military and his administration have made throughout his presidency.
First, he noted battlefield successes. For instance, he said, less than 15,000 troops remain in Iraq. Our soldiers have helped topple the Taliban and delivered justice to Osama Bin Laden. Afghan forces are being trained to take care of their own security.
“We must never allow Afghanistan to be used as a safe haven to attack our great nation again,” he said.
The president then reminded the vets in the audience of what his administration has done in terms of taking care of them when they return home. In his two terms, they have increased veteran funding by more than 85 percent, he explained. Additionally, they’ve made VA benefits available to 2 million who didn’t have them before.
A few more optimistic statistics he shared include that his administration has helped reduce veteran homelessness by 47 percent across the country and has cut veteran unemployment by half.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, he continued, veterans not covered by VA now have access to quality affordable health care.
They are also dedicating new funds for prosthetics and women’s veterans health care, adding more clinicians, more peer support and more research, like the $100 million they’re using to combat traumatic brain injuries.
“We are saving lives,” he said.
Yet, much work is still ahead. The fact that 20 veterans are taking their lives every day is a “national tragedy,” Obama noted.
“America’s commitment to our veterans is not just lines in a budget,” he said. “It’s a sacred covenant.”
Upholding that covenant is a “moral imperative,” he insisted, before acknowledging our nation has not always honored it.
For example, in an apology to Vietnam veterans, he said, “when you came home you deserved better.”
For those who have been hurt by the Veterans Affairs scandal, “you deserved better too.”
“If there’s ever a breach in the covenant, then leaders in this country have to work hard to regain trust.”
The solution, Obama said, is not to gut the agency, but reform it.
“We need to get more veterans connected” to the VA, he insisted. “When any member of our family is suffering, we need to be there for them.”
Instead of waiting an egregiously long time for service, veterans should get the care they need the very same day they ask for it. Congress needs to help by providing the funding we need to hire medical professionals, he said.
So far, they’ve hired thousands more doctors and staff. Yet, he’s “still not satisfied” and vowed to keep pushing to reform the VA.
New VA secretary Bob McDonnell, who has been criticized for comparing veterans wait times to lines at Disneyland, “cares deeply” about fixing the system, Obama asserted.
He then declared what is not helpful in terms of reform.
“We cannot privatize and outsource health care for Americans’ veterans.” The “folks” who keep pushing this “radical proposal.” Studies show that quality at the VA is often better than private care, he said.
To privatize the VA, he insinuated, would be a breach of our covenant with vets.
The president then contrasted his administration’s efforts to improve veterans’ lives with Republicans supposed stonewalling his budget proposals to increase vet funding.
He challenged Republicans to not “just talk about me,” but “do something” to help our veterans.
He saved a few moments to particularly hone in and criticize the rhetoric coming from GOP nominee Donald Trump, who called the military a “disaster” in the GOP presidential primary.
“As commander in chief, I’m pretty tired of some folks trash talking America’s military and troops,” Obama said. “We have the most capable fighting force in history and we’re going to keep it that way.”
Then, in a reference to Trump’s dismissal of NATO as “obsolete,” Obama said, “We’re going to stay united in NATO – the world’s strongest alliance.”
The president also made a subtle reference toward Trump’s ongoing feud with the Khans, the Muslim-American couple who challenged Trump for his plan to temporary ban Muslim immigration. Their son died serving in the U.S. Army and told Trump he had no idea what sacrifice is – an assertion which Trump denied, citing his business successes.
“No one has given more for our freedom and security than our gold star families,” Obama said. “We have grieved with them” and should honor them and be humbled by them. “They’ve made a sacrifice most of us can not even begin to imagine.”
“They continue to inspire us every day, every moment,” he added. “They represent the true strength of America.”
They will “keep fighting for dignity of every veteran” and fight to give them opportunity to live American Dream they helped defend.