In a pair of meetings this month with leaders from the two largest veterans service organizations, President Obama promised continued action on improving mental health treatment for veterans, boosting their employment opportunities and ending the disability claims backlog.
On Friday, Obama met privately with American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger to discuss the organization’s concerns and challenges. Two weeks ago, he held a similar sit-down with Veterans of Foreign Wars National Commander William Thien.
Both veterans leaders called the sessions an important chance to air their upcoming priorities.
“Veterans should be above partisan politics,” Dellinger said. “I feel like by reaching out to our organizations, it’s a realization of the place that veterans belong in our society.”
Thien and Dellinger said Obama promised a continued focus on treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and a host of other mental health illnesses facing troops returning from overseas combat.
Veterans Affairs Department officials in recent years have added new programs and new staff to tackle the problems. The veterans leaders praised that work, but noted that troop and veteran suicide rates remain disturbingly high.
They also praised work through the White House’s Joining Forces initiative to help transitioning veterans apply their military-learned skills in the private sector and obtain civilian job credentials. In a statement following the VFW meeting, Obama promised to take that work further, and ensure that veterans “have access to the education and training they need to re-enter the workforce.”
Both Obama and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki reiterated public promises to end the disability claims backlog, which sits at around 330,000 cases. The White House has promised to zero out that caseload by the end of 2015.
Leaders from the groups also expressed concerns about the shrinking defense budget and looming sequestration cuts, arguing that both hurt national security.