Obama on the Record: Veteran Healthcare

And we’re talking about women like Tammy Duckworth, who I think is here — Tammy, where are you? There you are — a great friend who lost her legs when a rocket struck the Black Hawk helicopter she was piloting over Iraq. And when she returned home, she continued to serve her country heading the Department of Veterans Affairs in Illinois, and she serves her country still as my nominee for Assistant Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

We’re talking about heroes like all the service members and veterans of the United States Armed Forces, including the veterans who’ve joined us here today — many who gave up much yet signed up to give more; many with their own battles still to come; all with their own stories to tell.

For their service and sacrifice, warm words of thanks from a grateful nation are more than warranted, but they aren’t nearly enough. We also owe our veterans the care they were promised and the benefits that they have earned. We have a sacred trust with those who wear the uniform of the United States of America. It’s a commitment that begins at enlistment, and it must never end.

But we know that for too long, we’ve fallen short of meeting that commitment. Too many wounded warriors go without the care that they need. Too many veterans don’t receive the support that they’ve earned. Too many who once wore our nation’s uniform now sleep in our nation’s streets.

It’s time to change all that. It’s time to give our veterans a 21st-century VA. Over the past few months we’ve made much progress towards that end, and today I’m pleased to announce some new progress.

Under the leadership of Secretary Gates and Secretary Shinseki, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs have taken a first step towards creating one unified lifetime electronic health record for members of our armed services that will contain their administrative and medical information — from the day they first enlist to the day that they are laid to rest.

Currently, there is no comprehensive system in place that allows for a streamlined transition of health records between DOD and the VA. And that results in extraordinary hardship for a awful lot of veterans, who end up finding their records lost, unable to get their benefits processed in a timely fashion. I can’t tell you how many stories that I heard during the course of the last several years, first as a United States senator and then as a candidate, about veterans who were finding it almost impossible to get the benefits that they had earned despite the fact that their disabilities or their needs were evident for all to see.

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