September 4, 2012
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – As the United States draws down in Afghanistan it remains committed to its military members, veterans and families by providing the support services they may need and opportunities to transition to meaningful civilian careers, President Barack Obama said today at Fort Bliss, Texas.
“Just as we give you the best equipment and technology on the battlefield, we need to give you the best support and care when you come home,” the president told about 5,000 soldiers gathered in an aircraft hangar. “We may be turning a page on a decade of war, but America’s responsibilities to you have only just begun.”
Sharing his conversations earlier today during a private roundtable with soldiers and their families, Obama acknowledged that “coming home can be its own struggle, especially for our wounded warriors.”
He noted a new executive order he signed today that gives troops, veterans and family members better access to mental health care, as well as resources already being put toward diagnosing and treating those with traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress and other difficulties.
“We’re going to add even more counselors and mental-health providers,” he said. “We’re launching a new awareness campaign, starting tomorrow, and I’m directing a task force to find out what works best so we’re doing everything we can to help those in need and save lives.”
Seeking help isn’t a sign of weakness, rather “it’s a sign of strength,” the president said.
While marshaling federal efforts, Obama said taking care of service members, veterans and military families is everyone’s job.
“Americans are united in their support of service members and their families, Obama told the audience.
“Only 1 percent of Americans may wear the uniform,” he said, “but 100 percent of Americans need to be supporting you and your families 100 percent.”
That, he said, includes helping veterans find meaningful jobs. “When you take off that uniform, we are going to help you fully participate in our economy,” Obama said. “After fighting for America, you shouldn’t have to fight for a job in America.”
Tapping into veterans’ experiences and talents makes America stronger while honoring the debt the country owes those who have served in uniform, Obama told the crowd. “Every single one of you has defended the American dream for the rest of us, and every single one of you deserves the chance to live the American dream for yourselves,” he said.
The president noted efforts being made to pave the way: an overhauled Transition Assistance Program, educational opportunities under the Post-9/11 GI Bill and new initiatives to help veterans transition to jobs in the federal government and private sector, among them.
“These are America’s commitments, to you and all who serve,” Obama said. “We need to be there for you, just like you were there for us, not just this year or next but for all the years to come.”
In a statement released today, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta thanked Obama “for his leadership in ensuring that America’s service members, military families and veterans receive the best possible mental health care and support. Today’s executive order will help the Department of Defense team with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services in a whole-of-government effort to improve care for those who have shouldered the burden of defending this country.”
As American veterans return home, Panetta continued, “we are determined to meet the President’s challenge to expand the quality and availability of mental health services for them. As part of this effort, we are transforming our health care system to better meet the needs of those returning from war, including those battling unseen wounds and mental stress.”
Panetta said military leaders are “encouraging service members to seek help if they need it, making clear that doing so is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength, and that their careers will not be jeopardized if they make this courageous decision.”
Yet there is still more work to do, the defense secretary said in his statement.
“In particular, we are losing too many of our men and women to suicide,” Panetta said. “The President has rightly challenged us to do even more to prevent suicide among service members, veterans, and military families, and the entire leadership of the Department of Defense shares his determination to put a stop to these tragedies. In the months ahead, the civilian and uniformed leadership of the Department will remain focused on implementing a comprehensive suicide prevention strategy to deal with this urgent and complex challenge.”