Obama Offers Plan to Improve Care for Veterans



The task of creating a unified system will be handled by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. The undertaking has repeatedly confounded the two agencies in the past, and it remains unclear how long the project will take and how much it will cost.

Both Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki joined Mr. Obama for the announcement, but provided no details.

“We have a sacred trust with those who wear the uniform of the United States of America, a commitment that begins with enlistment and must never end,” Mr. Obama said. “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.”

Mr. Obama also voiced support for a measure that would allow Congress to approve the money for veterans’ medical care one year in advance. Congress has been routinely late in passing the bill that finances the Department of Veterans Affairs, a delay that hampers medical care for veterans and makes planning difficult.

The budget resolution recently passed by the Senate includes the proposal. The Senate and the House are now negotiating the differences between their bills.

“The care that our veterans receive should never be hindered by budget delays,” Mr. Obama said.

The announcements are part of a larger effort to improve services for veterans. Mr. Obama’s budget for 2010 increases spending for veterans by $25 billion and funnels more money into programs for those who suffer mental health problems and traumatic brain injury.

Veterans’ advocacy groups called Thursday’s announcement an important step in smoothing the tangle of bureaucracy that frequently overburdens the veterans’ health care system.

Paul Rieckhoff, the executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said that modernizing medical records and allowing the two systems — military and veterans affairs — to talk to each other would have a dramatic effect on care.

Recently, Mr. Rieckhoff said, a Veterans Affairs doctor told him he had encountered a soldier with a brain injury, an amputation and a septic leg. The doctor had no idea how the man had been hurt because he did not have a complete file, he said.

“If you are a wounded service member, you have no continuity through the system,” Mr. Rieckhoff said on Thursday.

In creating a unified electronic system and pushing for more predictability in financing, Mr. Obama is trying to address two chronic stumbling blocks for improving care for veterans.

“He is setting Shinseki up for success,” Mr. Rieckhoff said of the department secretary. “He has a mountain of problems ahead of him and a big mess to clear up.”


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