WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama said Tuesday he is working to “regain the trust” of the nation’s veterans by improving their access to quality health care and education as he struggles to recover from a scandal that thrust the beleaguered Department of Veterans Affairs into the spotlight earlier this year.
“We are going to get to the bottom of these problems. We’re going to fix what is wrong,” Obama told thousands of veterans gathered in Charlotte, N.C., for the annual American Legion conference. “We’re going to do right by you and we are going to do right by your families, and that is a solemn pledge and commitment that I’m making to you here.”
Shortly before Obama’s remarks, the White House announced a series of policy changes and public-private partnerships aimed at easing service members’ transition to civilian life. The 19 policy changes included improved coordination between the Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs on mental health care services, better access for veterans to psychiatric medications and greater awareness and training on suicide prevention.
The list included seemingly straightforward changes, such as making it easier for veterans to earn commercial driver’s licenses, and new funding for complex research. The Pentagon and the National Institutes of Health have launched a study on early detection of suicide risk, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain disorder, while the VA will invest $34.4 million in a national clinical trial on suicide prevention involving 1,800 veterans at 29 hospitals, the White House said.
“We have to end this tragedy of suicide among our troops and veterans,” Obama said. “As a country, we can’t stand idly by.”
Using one of this White House’s preferred strategies for policy changes, Obama also announced new commitments from the private sector. Wells Fargo, CitiMortgage, Bank of America, Ocwen Loan Servicing and Quicken Loans have agreed to make it easier to apply for mortgage interest breaks available to veterans, the White House said.
Similarly, the Department of Education is ordering student loan servicers to cross-reference their student borrowers with the Defense Department’s database of veterans in an effort to identify borrowers eligible for student loan relief.