By J. Taylor Rushing - 07/10/10 10:00 AM EDT
President Barack Obama used the last weekend of the July Fourth congressional recess to pledge his efforts toward a "21st Century Veterans Administration" and a "post-9/11 GI Bill" to help recovering veterans recover more of the American Dream.
Facing stiff congressional GOP challenges to his agenda on domestic issues such as a climate change bill, immigration reform, a bill to modify the Supreme Court's decision on campaign finance reform and a bill to incentivize small businesses with tax credits, Obama on Saturday turned to his military bills to push the most immediate successes.
"On Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs, led by Secretary Eric Shinseki, will begin making it easier for a veteran with PTSD to get the benefits he or she needs," Obama said.
"This is a long-overdue step that will help veterans not just of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, but generations of their brave predecessors who proudly served and sacrificed in all our wars... It's a step that proves America will always be here for our veterans, just as they've been there for us...We won't let them down. We take care of our own."
Obama didn’t specifically reference a finding that the Department of Veterans Affairs made last month, sending a letter to 1,812 patients informing them that they could have been exposed to HIV and other deadly viruses because of dental equipment that was insufficiently sterilized over a period of 13 months. The agency said the risk of infection was “extremely low,” but urged patients to return for blood tests and was criticized for taking more than three months to send out the letters after it discovered the faulty safety precautions in March.
“We should be much more caring not only about the procedures but the way we deal with them after they’re known,” said Rep. Bob Filner (D-Ca.), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, adding it was “disgraceful” that Shinseki did not know about the lapse until last week.
Filner said the “only way you can get accountability is if there is someone who actually pays a price for this,” although he did not explicitly call for Shinseki to be fired.
Less specifically, Obama referenced "a 21st century VA," "increasing its budget, and ensuring the steady stream of funding it needs to support medical care for our veterans."
Obama said he has asked for congressional funding to fund and implement a "post-9/11 GI Bill," which passed last year and has seen 500,000 service members sign up for it.
"To deliver better care in more places, we're expanding and increasing VA health care, building new wounded warrior facilities, and adapting care to better meet the needs of female veterans," Obama said. "To stand with those who sacrifice, we've dedicated new support for wounded warriors and the caregivers who put their lives on hold for a loved one's long recovery."
Obama repeated the pledge that he intends to end U.S. combat missions in Iraq by the end of August, "completing a drawdown of more than 90,000 troops since last January."