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Obama cites strides on helping veterans but says more work is needed

ATLANTA — President Obama said Monday that the nation has made significant strides in improving services for military veterans, but work remains to overcome shortcomings in the delivery of health care, housing, and mental health services.

He called the nation’s commitment to its veterans a ‘‘sacred covenant.’’

‘‘I don’t use those words lightly. It’s sacred because there is no more solemn request than to ask someone to risk their life, to be ready to give their life on our behalf,’’ Obama said at the annual convention of the Disabled American Veterans.

It was Obama’s final major address to a gathering of veterans before he leaves office in January after eight years as president. He received a rousing welcome.


Obama said the Department of Veterans Affairs has hired more doctors, nurses, and staff and opened more clinics since the recent scandal over long wait-times for VA services, the demand for which keeps growing as more veterans come into the pipeline.

Benefits are available to more than 2 million veterans who didn’t have them before, he said.

Services are reaching more veterans, including those who live in rural areas through telemedicine. Homelessness has been cut nearly in half, by 47 percent, though still far short of the president’s long-held goal of reducing it to zero. More veterans are finding jobs.

More than a half-million veterans have donated their health and genetic data to a research database that Obama said eventually will benefit not just former military members, but all Americans.

But shortcomings remain, Obama said. He cited mental care for veterans, including the 20 per day who commit suicide.

Quicker processing of disability claims and appeals is also needed. A staggering backlog of disability claims has been whittled from more than 600,000 three years ago to below 80,000, but some 450,000 appeals are pending. Veterans wait an average of three years for a decision, which the White House called ‘‘unacceptable.’’ Obama called on Congress to pass legislation to overhaul the system.


Care for America’s veterans is a top issue in the presidential campaign, with the nearly 21 million veterans in the United States making up a critical voting bloc.

Associated Press