August 12, 2013 – The White House — On Saturday, August 10, President Obama addressed the Disabled American Veterans and discussed his Administration’s work to secure our nation, wind down the war in Afghanistan, better serve our troops and military families, and honor our veterans. In his remarks, President Obama outlined the five priorities his Administration is focused on to ensure we are fulfilling our promises to all those who have served – ensuring the resources our veterans deserve; delivering the health care veterans have been promised; ending the claims backlog; protecting the dignity and rights of wounded warriors; and making sure all veterans have every opportunity to pursue the American Dream.
The President announced a new national action plan to guide mental health research and commitments from 250 community colleges and universities to aid veterans in their efforts to complete their higher education so they can compete for the high-skilled jobs of the future. Additionally the President noted that we are turning the tide on eliminating the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) disability claims backlog, with a nearly 20% reduction over the last five months. The President also renewed his call on Congress to pass his Veterans Job Corps proposal to put our veterans to work protecting and rebuilding America, and to extend permanently the Returning Heroes and Wounded Warrior tax credits for businesses that hire veterans.
On Friday, August 9, the President signed into law the Helping Heroes Fly Act, to ensure wounded warriors and disabled veterans can travel with dignity. Additional background information on the Administration’s work to honor and support America’s service members, military families and veterans is included below.
Ensuring All Veterans Have Every Opportunity to Pursue the American Dream
As the President has said, no veteran who fought for this nation should have to fight for a job when they return home. The President’s tax credits, combined with additional steps the Administration has taken to improve transition from military service to civilian employment, have begun to make an impact in reducing veterans’ unemployment. The President’s record on hiring and education veterans includes:
Hiring Our Veterans
Creating Two New Veterans’ Tax Credits – Which the President Has Called to Extend Permanently: President Obama repeated his call for making the Returning Heroes and Wounded Warriors tax credits permanent, continuing a key incentive for employers to hire veterans. The Returning Heroes tax credit provides an incentive of up to $5,600 for firms to hire unemployed veterans, while the Wounded Warrior tax credit doubled the existing tax credit for long-term unemployed veterans with service-connected disabilities to $9,600. These two tax credits were first proposed by President Obama in the American Jobs Act in 2011, and were signed into law in November of that year; in January, President Obama signed legislation extended them through the end of 2013.
Creating a “Career-Ready” Military by Transforming the Military’s Transition Program: A little more than a year ago, the President announced a major revamp of how the military assists the more than 200,000 service members transitioning to the private sector every year. Now fully implemented across the services, the core curriculum for Transition GPS extended the transition program period from 3 days to 5-7 days, made participation mandatory for all transitioning service members, and will incorporate transition and preparation for the civilian workforce throughout the military life cycle.
Streamlining Civilian Credentialing for Service Members and Veterans: Under the President’s direction, the Department of Defense established a Military Credentialing and Licensing Task Force, to identify opportunities where service members can earn civilian occupational credentials and licenses without the need for additional training. In February 2013, First Lady Michelle Obama challenged all 50 governors to put in place legislation for credentialing and licensing for veterans by 2015. To date, 38 states have passed laws removing barriers to Service members and veterans earning state licenses, especially in the areas of emergency medical technician, paramedics, commercial driver’s license, and licensed practical nursing.
Joining Forces Initiative: Efforts to encourage private sector hiring have been led by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden. Since the President’s challenge in 2011, businesses have hire and trained more than 290,000 veterans and military spouses. Additionally, companies have committed to hire or train an additional 435,000 veterans and their spouses by the end of 2018.
Helping More Veterans Start Businesses: In Fiscal Year 2012 (FY2012), SBA supported nearly $2.1 billion in lending to over 2,800 veteran-owned small businesses, including Patriot Express loans and microloans.
Hiring More Veterans in the Federal Government: The federal government has also helped lead efforts to employ veterans – more than 290,000. In FY2012, 28.79 percent of all new federal employees hires were veterans, and for the first two quarters of FY2013, 35.1 percent of all new federal hires were veterans.
Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP): VRAP is a joint program between VA and the Department of Labor created under the Vow to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 that provides 12 months of training for high-demand occupations to eligible veterans who are 35 to 60 years old and unemployed. Thus far, VRAP has issued $323 million in benefits to more than 53,000 eligible veterans.
Increasing Access to Intensive Reemployment Services: Through the President’s Gold Card Initiative post-9/11 veterans are eligible for free services aimed at jump-starting their job search process at Department of Labor’s 3,000 American Job Centers across the country. Veterans can download the Veteran Gold Card online, which entitles them to six months of personalized case management, assessments and career counseling.
Hiring Our Heroes: The Department of Labor is working with the private sector to increase the employment of our veterans by partnering with the US Chamber of Commerce to improve public-private sector coordination in local communities. Since its launch in March 2011, Hiring Our Heroes has been able to help more than 100,000 veterans and military spouses find meaningful employment.
Providing Education Opportunities
Launching “8 Keys to Success”: The President announced today that in order to improve outcomes for returning service members, more than 250 community colleges and universities across the country – working with the Department of Education and the VA – have committed to aid veterans in their effort to afford and complete their college degrees, certificates, industry-recognized credentials and licenses in preparation for jobs in high-growth sectors of the economy.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill: This bill provides funding for formal education and training as well as on-the-job training and apprenticeships to eligible veterans. Thursday, August 1 marked the 4th anniversary of the Post-9/11 GI Bill; in that time, the program has issued approximately $30 billion in payments and helped nearly one million service members, veterans, and their families pursue their education since 2009. Educational benefits worth over $10 billion annually are being paid to nearly one million beneficiaries in VA’s education programs.
Ensuring Standards of Excellence in GI Bill Education: To ensure our service members, veterans, spouses, and other family members have the information they need to make informed decisions concerning their well-earned Federal military and veterans’ educational benefits, the President directed, through an Executive Order, this Administration to develop Principles of Excellence to strengthen oversight, enforcement, and accountability within these benefits programs.
Delivering The Health Care Veterans Have Been Promised
Meeting the health care needs of veterans and their families is among the highest priorities for the Administration.
Accelerating Research on Mental Health and Brain Injury: Last August, the President signed an Executive Order directing the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Defense, and Health and Human Services, in coordination with other federal agencies, to take a number of steps to ensure that Veterans, Service Members, and their families receive the mental health services and support they need. Today, the Administration released a National Research Action Plan, a comprehensive approach to improving our ability to prevent, diagnose, and treat brain injuries and mental health issues earlier and better. This includes an aggressive strategy to reduce suicide, and dramatically improve our ability to diagnose and treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). As part of the Plan, the DOD, VA, National Institutes of Health, and Department of Education have made an unprecedented commitment to coordinate and share data and other resources to accelerate research progress. In addition, the Administration announced that the University of Texas Health Science Center-San Antonio and Virginia Commonwealth University will each lead new research consortia with more than $100 million of support from DoD and VA to help better recognize and treat PTSD and the links between TBI and other mental health issues.
Improving Mental Health Care: In the FY2014 budget, the President committed nearly $7 billion – a 7.2 percent increase above the 2013 enacted level — to continue VA’s focus on expanding and transforming mental health services for veterans to ensure accessible and patient-centered care. Additionally, in June, President Obama announced that VA met their hiring goal to increase their capacity to provide timely mental health services to veterans. VA hired 1,669 mental health professionals and is on track to hire an additional 800 peer-to-peer specialists by December 31, 2013.
Working to Prevent Suicide: VA has increased the capacity of its Veterans Crisis Line by 50 percent and trained all new staff members to ensure that veterans in crisis can readily reach help. To date, the crisis line has made over 29,000 rescues of actively suicidal veterans. The Veteran Crisis Line coordinates with DoD to provide assistance to Active Duty Service Members.
· Reducing Stigma: The Administration is utilizing partnerships to reduce the stigma associated with seeking treatment for behavioral health issues. “Make the Connection” is a campaign run by the Department of Veterans Affairs to create ways for Veterans and their families to connect with other Veterans. In addition Stand by Them is a VA and DoD-wide theme to encourage veterans, Service members, their families, friends, and other key intermediaries to connect with VA for confidential support.
· Identifying and Treating Traumatic Brain Injury: VA has launched a comprehensive program to identify, screen and treat all Veterans with TBI, and to ensure that they receive patient-centered, integrated care and benefits. President Obama signed an amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act which allows individuals with PTSD and TBI to more easily seek legal protections as they look for and participate in employment opportunities.
Conducting Community Mental Health Summits: The VA has directed its medical centers nationwide to organize more than 150 Mental Health Summits with community partners, including local government officials, community-based organizations, and Veteran Service Organizations. The Summits will enhance the mental health and well-being of Veterans and their family members through collaboration between VA and community-based group.
Educating Private Sector Health Care Providers on the Needs of Veterans and Military Families: With the help of the First Lady and Dr. Biden, 135 medical schools have committed to exchanging leading research on PTSD and TBI and will also train future physicians to better understand veteran health issues and needs. Over 150 state and national nursing organizations and over 650 nursing schools have committed to ensure the nation’s 3 million nurses are prepared to meet the health needs of veterans and their families by educating the current and future nurses of America to have a better understanding of PTSD and TBI.
Establishing Mental Health Pilot Programs: As of May 31, VA established pilot projects with 24 community-based mental health and substance abuse providers across nine states. Pilot projects are varied and may include provisions for inpatient, residential, and outpatient mental health and substance abuse services. Sites may include capabilities for tele-mental health, staff sharing, and space utilization arrangements to allow VA providers to provide services directly in communities that are distant from a VA facility.
Helping the Uninsured through the Affordable Care Act: Veterans and their family members will have new options for healthcare with the Affordable Care Act, which builds on the health care options already in place – including the high-quality, comprehensive VA health care system – to give veterans and their families even more choices and more security. The health care law will help more than 1.3 million veterans and 950,000 spouses and children of veterans who are uninsured. If a veteran relies on the VA today, the health care law is not going to change that. The Affordable Care Act only provides new options to veterans and their families. There are no new requirements for veterans and there’s nothing in the health care law that would change access to VA benefits. It also won’t change anything for the many veterans and their families who rely on Medicare or an employer health plan.
Fighting for the Resources our Veterans Deserve
President Obama has made a historic level of investment in the Department of Veterans Affairs increasing the VA budget by more than 40 percent since 2009. Despite current fiscal challenges, the President’s FY14 budget provides $66.5 billion for VA, a 4.3 percent increase over the 2013 enacted amount, in order to meet the increased needs of the nation’s veterans. This funding level maintains the Administration’s commitment to veterans, providing the resources to help transform the Department and better serve veterans and their families.
Ending the VA Claims Backlog
Turning the Tide: The VA has made important progress on the disability claims backlog, but will not be satisfied until it has been eliminated – when no veteran has to wait for the benefits they have earned and deserve. Since its peak at the end of March, — 611,000 claims — we have reduced the backlog by nearly 20%. The VA has taken a number of steps in recent months to reduce the backlog:
· In April, the VA launched an initiative to expedite disability compensation claims decisions for Veterans who have a waited a year or longer.
· In May, the agency announced that it was mandating overtime for claims processors in its 56 regional benefits offices to increase production of compensations claims through FY2013.
· VA has completed a record-breaking 1 million claims per year the last three fiscal years, and are on track to meet the goal of eliminating the backlog in 2015.
Modernizing the System: The VA has taken important steps to move away from paper-based, manual system to one fit for the 21st century. All of VA’s 56 regional offices now have new electronic system to process claims. And as we are throughout the government, the VA’s will continue to make processes more efficient and effective and look for ways to deliver for our veterans in smarter, faster and better ways.
Expanding Access: The Administration has dramatically expanded access to care and benefits for veterans who had previously been shut out of the system – including expanding to those suffering from Agent Orange related-diseases and making it easier to obtain benefits for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Extending Benefits to Victims of Agent Orange: In 2009, Secretary Shinseki made the decision to add three presumptive conditions for Vietnam veterans who were exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange, based on the latest scientific evidence, so veterans and their families could access disability benefits. Since then, the VA has provided $4.5 billion in retroactive benefits to 166,000 Vietnam veterans and their survivors.
· Expanding Benefits to Gulf War Veterans: Secretary Shinseki extended presumption of service connection for nine infectious diseases associated with Gulf War service, including malaria, West Nile virus, and non-typhoid salmonella.
· Eased PTSD Approval Standards : In July 2010, the VA published a historic change to its rules, streamlining the process and paperwork needed by combat veterans, regardless of the war they served in, to pursue a claim for disability pay for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Protecting the Dignity and Rights of Wounded Warriors
Helping Heroes Fly Act: On Friday, August 9, the President signed into law the Helping Heroes Fly Act, to ensure wounded warriors and disabled veterans can travel with dignity. The law directs the Department of Homeland Security to develop and implement a process to ease travel and to the extent possible provide expedited passenger screening services for severely injured or disabled Armed Forces members and veterans, and their accompanying family members or nonmedical attendants
Combating Veteran Homelessness: In 2009, President Obama and Secretary Shinseki set an ambitious plan to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. The Budget invests $1.4 billion to provide VA services for homeless and at-risk veterans. These funds will combat veteran homelessness through collaborative partnerships with local governments, non-profit organizations, and the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Justice, and Labor. As of the most recent count from a single night in January 2012, there were 62,619 homeless veterans in the U.S. – a 17.2 percent decline since January 2009.