President Barack Obama urged military veterans to defend his signature health-care law and press Republican lawmakers to end budget cuts that threaten future spending on benefits.
In remarks to the Disabled American Veterans National Convention in Orlando, Florida, Democrat Obama said critics of the health insurance expansion that he championed are spreading “misinformation.” Veterans benefits won’t be affected by the Affordable Care Act, he said.
“Don’t let them fool you: no one’s taking away your benefits,” Obama said. “If you already have health insurance or health care from the VA, you do not have to do a thing.”
He added the caveat that veterans’ care could be threatened later by across-the-board budget cuts. While military benefits are exempt from federal cuts that began in March, funding hurdles could mount next year if Congress doesn’t eliminate the automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration.
The best way to protect veterans’ benefits is to “get rid of the sequester altogether,” the president said.
The speech was Obama’s last stop before a nine-day family vacation on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Obama and his wife Michelle arrived on the island aboard the presidential CH-46 helicopter while staff members and press with them flew for the first time on the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft made by Boeing Co. (BA:US) and Textron Inc. (TXT:US)’s Bell Helicopter unit.
Obama also highlighted his administration’s efforts to improve services for military veterans, saying he would eliminate a backlog of nearly a half-million disability claims at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. That backlog has been reduced by almost 20 percent from a March peak of 611,000, according to a White House fact sheet.
“We are making progress,” Obama said. “After years of military service, you shouldn’t have to wait for years for the military benefits you’ve earned.”
Obama also announced $100 million in government funding to help better recognize and treat traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues. The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and Virginia Commonwealth University each will lead new research groups.
Veterans will also get the training and education necessary to help qualify them for high-skilled jobs through a program with 250 community colleges and universities, Obama said in his remarks today.
Nearly 4,000 guests, including injured veterans, attended the Orlando convention, where the benefits backlog was at the center of discussions, event organizers said. The DAV has 1.2 million members.
House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Congressman Jeff Miller of Florida said that while he applauds Obama for speaking with veterans, the administration has made insufficient progress on electronic health records and that there are too many lapses in care at veterans’ medical centers.
“His leadership and personal involvement is essential to solving these problems,” Miller said in a statement.
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