On Veterans Day and Solemn Ground, Obama Urges More Help for Vets

President Barack Obama lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. during Veterans Day ceremonies. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Barack Obama lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. during Veterans Day ceremonies. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

On Veterans Day, President Obama said America needs to go beyond words of thanks and parades and do more to help a new generation of veterans get on with their lives after serving their country.

The sun shined bright during the Nov. 11 ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Flags fluttered and leaves floated to the ground in the autumn breeze.

Service members from the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard stood silent in immaculate dress uniforms. Old veterans in the crowd saluted as a bugler played "Taps."

"To all our veterans here today, to veterans across America -- whether you served on beaches of Europe, the jungles of Asia, the deserts of the Middle East; whether you served here at home or overseas in wartime or in peace -- you are part of an unbroken chain of patriots who have served this country with honor," Obama said.

"On these sacred grounds, where generations of Americans have come to rest, we remember all those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. Today we gather once more to salute every patriot who has ever proudly worn the uniform of the United States of America."

Obama recognized and thanked veterans of World War II, as this year marks the 70th anniversary of the victory in Europe and the Pacific.

But it's not enough to honor such sacrifices on one day a year, he said.

"Today in big cities and small towns across our country there will be ceremonies around flag poles, parades down Main Street to properly express our gratitude ... but our tributes will ring hollow if we stop there," Obama said. "This day is not only about gratitude for what they have done for us, it is also a reminder of all that they still have to give to our nation and our duty to them."

The President didn't mention proposed reforms during his speech, but White House officials on Tuesday outlined a range of new programs for the Veterans Affairs Department, including enhanced protections for GI Bill education benefits and a renewed push to end veterans' homelessness.

If put into practice, "these steps will ensure that veterans have the opportunities and assistance they need to help grow our economy and realize the American Dream," the White House said in a lengthy fact sheet on the proposals.

One step the White House was taking on its own was approving a new agreement between the VA and the Federal Trade Commission to stop GI Bill fraud.

The VA will also be launching a "new and improved GI Bill Comparison Tool" aimed at giving vets for the first time outcome measures on graduation and retention rates at schools they may be considering.

The VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have made significant progress in reducing the number of veterans who live on the street, but they acknowledged that the administration would not be able to achieve its goal of ending veterans' homelessness by the end of this year.

Veteran homelessness has been reduced by 36 percent, but there were still some 50,000 homeless vets on the streets, White House officials maintain.

"We have made historic investments to boost the VA budget, expand benefits, offer more mental health care and improved care for those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury," Obama said. "We have now slashed the disability claims backlog by nearly 90 percent.

"Still, the unacceptable problems that we have seen like long wait times and some veterans not getting the care that they need is a challenge for all of us if we are to match our words with deeds. My message to every single veteran to veterans all across this country is that I am still not satisfied. And [VA Secretary] Bob McDonald is still not satisfied, and we are going to keep investing in the facilities and the physicians and the staff to make sure that our veterans that you need when you need it; that is our obligation, and we are not going to let up."

-- Richard Sisk contributed to this report.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com

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