WASHINGTON -- President Obama pledged Monday to honor the nation’s debt to its military veterans by improving healthcare, job support and educational opportunities for those who have served.
In his annual Veterans Day address at Arlington National Cemetery, Obama declared that the war in Afghanistan is coming to a close but vowed that the commitment of the U.S. government to the men and women in uniform will continue.
“Even as we make difficult fiscal choices as a nation, we’re going to keep making vital investments in our veterans,” Obama told a group of veterans, joined by their friends and family members. “That’s our promise to you and all who have served -- to be there, to support you when you come home, every step of the way.”
This winter, troop levels in Afghanistan are on track to be down to 34,000. A year from now, the transition from an international military presence to an Afghan-led security force is expected to be almost complete and the longest war in American history will near its end.
As is true after every conflict, Obama warned, the service of Afghanistan veterans could fade in the country’s memory.
For his part, Obama pledged to improve mental health care for veterans and to make sure veterans not covered by the Veterans Administration will have access to affordable health insurance. He said his administration will work to reduce the VA claims backlog and help new veterans and their families to make use of educational assistance under the GI bill.
He also said he would keep pushing for approval of the Disabilities Treaty, backed by the United Nations, to protect people with disabilities, including veterans, from discrimination. When the treaty came before the U.S. Senate last year, it fell short of the two-thirds vote need for ratification.
In his remarks, Obama honored a 107-year-old veteran named Richard Overton, who was at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked and later served in Okinawa and at Iwo Jima. An African American, Overton returned home to a nation divided by race, where his service on the battlefield did not received the respect he deserved at home, the president said.
“This is how we’ll be judged,” Obama said, asking Overton to stand from his wheelchair and acknowledge the crowd’s applause. “Not just by how well we care for our troops in battle, but how we treat them when they come home.”
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