- The Washington Times - Monday, May 26, 2014

Seeking to reassure military families that his administration hasn’t forgotten them, President Obama marked Memorial Day with a pledge to provide full benefits to veterans.

In his annual address at Arlington National Cemetery, Mr. Obama referred to the burgeoning scandal over delayed care at Veterans Administration hospitals by saying “we must do more to keep faith with our veterans and their families.”

“These Americans have done their duty, they ask nothing more than that our country does ours, now and for decades to come,” Mr. Obama said.

Among the guests in the audience was VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who is facing calls to resign over accusations of care-denial at a VA hospital in Phoenix and other facilities. The president, who said he supports Mr. Shinseki, didn’t single out his Cabinet official by name, as he did at the same ceremony one year ago.

The president attended the ceremony and a wreath-laying at Arlington only hours after returning from a 33-hour round trip to Afghanistan, where he met with some of the 32,000 U.S. troops still serving in that country. In his speech Monday, Mr. Obama said by the end of this year, “our war in Afghanistan will finally come to an end.”

“We pay tribute to the nearly 2,200 American patriots who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan,” he said. “We will honor them always.”
The president said the government has a duty to look after its service members, veterans and their families.

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“So here on these hallowed grounds, we rededicate ourselves to our sacred obligations to all who wear America’s uniform and to the families who stand by them always,” Mr. Obama said.

Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said Monday that veterans are “outraged nationwide” over the VA scandal.

“It’s like outrage like I’ve never seen before,” Mr. Rieckhoff said on NBC’s “Today” show. “They’ve lost faith in the VA, in Secretary Shinseki, and in the president. He’s got to work very hard in the next few days to regain that trust and faith. The president took too long to get to this.”

The Memorial Day observance and the trip to Afghanistan began a week that will be filled with military themes for Mr. Obama. He will deliver the commencement address Wednesday at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, a speech in which aides say the president will defend his foreign policy of limited military engagements and a reliance on diplomacy.

The president is also due to receive mid-week a briefing from a top White House aide, Rob Nabors, on the problems at the VA hospital in Phoenix. Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, has said the issues with the VA are “much larger than the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

Just six months ago, on Veterans Day, Mr. Shinseki praised Mr. Obama at Arlington for his “unwavering support for this department and for veterans.”

The VA secretary touted his department’s progress in a speech that day.

“With the help of Congress, VA’s budgets have steadily increased,” Mr. Shinseki said at the time. “As a result, we have enrolled 2 million more veterans for VA health care, dropped disability claims backlog by over 211,000 claims in the last 230 days, reduced veterans’ homelessness [and] enrolled our one-millionth veteran into the new post-9/11 GI Bill education program. Veterans couldn’t ask for a stronger advocate than our president.”

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