MINNEAPOLIS -- President Barack Obama pushed two job initiatives for veterans on Tuesday in Minneapolis in front of a crowd well aware of the problems facing newly returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan find work.
In front of delegates of the American Legion national convention, Obama announced plans for what he called a "reverse boot camp" for veterans leaving the service, allowing vets to develop and transfer job skills to the private sector. He also called on states to develop legislation that would make it easier for veterans to qualify for licensing credentials."These are the obligations we have to each other -- our forces, our veterans, our citizens," Obama told several thousand delegates at the Minneapolis Convention Center. "These are the responsibilities we must fulfill. Not just when it's easy, or when it's convenient, but always."
At a time when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are winding down and the focus is turning to returning vets, Obama also highlighted administration efforts to reduce a backlog of benefit claims through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Those efforts include acknowledging new claims from Vietnam vets suffering from the affects of Agent Orange and from the new demands of a greater number of women in the military.
Obama's pledges on veteran jobs comes amid a larger economic problem with the nation.
"As a nation, we're facing tough choices as we put our fiscal house in order. But I want to be absolutely clear -- we cannot, and we must not, balance the budget on the backs of our veterans," Obama said, receiving a standing ovation.
Unemployment among veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan has hovered around 13 percent. Obama previously has called on the private sector to hire or train 100,000 returning veterans, proposing to offer tax credits for companies that hire vets and veterans with disabilities.
With advancements in technologies, veterans are returning with injuries that may have killed them on the battlefields in previous conflicts. Those new wounded vets bring with them additional problems. Obama acknowledged the issue, pointing to initiatives allowing caregivers to receive training and stipends for those looking out for vets with traumatic brain injuries. Obama recently reversed White House policy and had begun sending condolence letters to the loved ones of members of the military who have committed suicide in a combat zone.
"Put simply, we're saving more lives, but more American veterans will live with severe wounds for a lifetime. So we need to be there for them -- for their lifetime," Obama said.
Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, who will address the convention later this week, has pledged to end veteran homeless by 2013 and programs have been initiated to reach out to homeless veterans, particularly in rural areas. Obama said that requires a concerted effort across federal departments.
"That includes making sure that federal agencies are working together so that every veteran who fought for America has a home in America," Obama said.
With 2.4 million members, the American Legion is the largest war-time veterans organization in the country. Besides concerns about veterans, the organization also has as one of its hallmarks a strong military. In the face of budget deficits, $350 billion in defense spending are on the table. But even as the U.S. winds down its combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama pledged to keep the military vibrant.
"As we meet the tests that the future will surely bring, including hard fiscal choices here at home, there should be no doubt. The United States of America will keep our military the best-trained, the best-led, the best-equipped fighting force in history," he told the crowd in a speech that lasted about 30 minutes.