Obama pledges to care for vet­er­ans

Speaks of cut­ting back­log of claims for ben­e­fits at VA

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY DAVE BOYER

As his ad­min­is­tra­tion strug­gles to keep its prom­ise on pro­vid­ing vet­er­ans ben­e­fits, Pres­i­dent Obama marked Vet­er­ans Day with a pledge to care for those re­turn­ing from war in Afghanistan.

“Our work is more ur­gent than ever, be­cause this chapter of war is com­ing to an end,” Mr. Obama said Mon­day at a cer­e­mony at Ar­ling­ton Na­tional Ceme­tery. “By this time next year, the tran­si­tion to Afghan-led se­cu­rity will be nearly com­plete. The long­est war in Amer­i­can his­tory will end.”

Mr. Obama said in spite of “dif­fi­cult fis­cal choices,” his ad­min­is­tra­tion will keep pro­vid­ing “un­prece­dented” sup­port for vet­er­ans, in­clud­ing at­tack­ing the no­to­ri­ous back­log of claims at the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs.

“We’re go­ing to keep re­duc­ing the claims back­log,” Mr. Obama said. “We’ve slashed it by a third since March, and we’re go­ing to keep at it so you can get the ben­e­fits that you have earned and that you need, when you need them.”

While Mr. Obama has pledged to cut into the back­log of ben­e­fit claims, his ad­min­is­tra­tion hasn’t made as much progress as he promised.

The VA said 400,835 vet­er­ans’ ben­e­fits claims re­main in the pipe­line, down about 211,000 since March. The agency, which re­ceived its full fund­ing re­quest from Congress in fis­cal 2013, hasn’t met pro­jec­tions for how many back­logged claims it would han­dle; it has pro­cessed about 100,000 fewer claims than promised.

VA Sec­re­tary Eric K. Shin­seki has said the depart­ment will elim­i­nate the back­log some­time in 2015.

Mr. Obama also got in a plug for Oba­macare at the cer­e­mony, say­ing, “We’re mak­ing sure that vet­er­ans not cov­ered by the VA can se­cure qual­ity, af­ford­able health in­sur­ance.”

The pres­i­dent par­tic­i­pated in the tra­di­tional wreath-lay­ing at the Tomb of the Un­knowns at Ar­ling­ton be­fore his speech.

Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Repub­li­can, said Mon­day the sac­ri­fice of vet­er­ans is ex­em­pli­fied by Cpl. Josh Har­gis of Cincin­nati, an Army Ranger who was wounded dur­ing a sui­cide at­tack in Afghanistan. He was pre­sumed to be un­con­scious af­ter surgery as his com­mand­ing of­fi­cer awarded him the Pur­ple Heart, but Cpl. Har­gis raised his right hand in a salute, an im­age that went viral on the In­ter­net.

“Like Cpl. Har­gis, each of you an­swered the high­est call,” Mr. Boehner said in an open let­ter to vet­er­ans. “We will pledge to do our work so that you can more eas­ily find work and good care. Be­cause of you, our chil­dren know what it means to serve with honor and give back to one an­other.”

Ear­lier, Mr. Obama hosted a breakfast for vet­er­ans at the White House where he met 107-year- old Richard Over­ton, be­lieved to be the na­tion’s old­est vet­eran of World War II.

A mem­ber of the Army’s 188th Avi­a­tion En­gi­neer Bat­tal­ion, Mr. Over­ton vol­un­teered for ser­vice in 1942 and saw com­bat in the Pa­cific with an all­black unit.

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