On Tuesday, President Obama and Secretary McDonald addressed a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, calling on Congress to provide more funds and flexibility to the VA. “I’m calling on Congress to approve [a funding request] quickly, this month,” President Obama told the audience. “Our vets need it and our hospitals need it.”
[See the President speak below.]
In a wide-ranging speech that covered the recent murder of 4 Marines in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the Iran nuclear agreement, and the creation of a new POW/MIA agency, the President also specifically addressed the VA’s ongoing struggles to meet veterans’ health care needs.
“Veterans continue to tell us that once they get through the door, the care is often very good. A lot of folks across the VA, many of them veterans themselves, work very hard every single day to do right by veterans, and we thank them, but we have to acknowledge that our work is not done,” he told the audience. “We still have a big challenge. Even with all these new resources, the VA is still struggling to keep up with the surge of veterans who are seeking care… I am still not satisfied, Bob is still not satisfied. We are focused on this at the highest levels. We are not going to let up.”
In addition to fixing the immediate VA shortfall, President Obama pledged to improve the care of veterans across the VA, especially for women and veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder and other mental health disorders. The President also promised to reduce the disability claims’ backlog that has been plaguing the VA and reiterated the pledge to eliminate veteran homelessness, noting that both Houston, Texas, and New Orleans, Louisiana, have “effectively eliminated veteran homelessness.”
Finally, the President insisted to offer a range of plans to protect veterans and service members from predatory payday loan vendors, encourage employers to hire veterans, and offer in-state college tuition at public universities to veterans in all 50 states.
Also at the convention, Secretary McDonald touted some of the recent efforts by the VA, including the completion of an additional 7 million appointments over the past 12 months. Still, Secretary McDonald warned that Congress must fund an agency that is beset with an aging infrastructure, increasing demand, and an aged population. Secretary McDonald warned that cuts in the fiscal year 2016 VA budget passed by the U.S. House of Representatives could reduce medical care by $688 million, eliminate construction funding, and inhibit the hiring and retention of quality employees.