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 all-black unit.