President Barack Obama pledged Thursday to provide seamless, lifelong care for the country's veterans.
Announcing a program to better integrate medical care and create electronic records that would follow a member of the military seamlessly from active duty to care with the Veterans Administration, Obama said the country must live up to the sacred trust to those who served in uniform.
For their service and sacrifice, warm words of thanks from a grateful nation are more than warranted, but they aren't nearly enough, he said. We also owe our veterans the care they were promised and the benefits that they have earned. We have a sacred trust with those who wear the uniform of the United States of America. It's a commitment that begins at enlistment, and it must never end.
Obama added, 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. Too many veterans don't receive the support that they've earned.
To start the process of better serving veterans' medical needs Obama said the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs would establish a single unified electronic medical record that would follow a service member from the day they first enlist to the day that they are laid to rest.
Currently, there is no comprehensive system in place that allows for a streamlined transition of health records between DOD and the VA, he said. And that results in extraordinary hardship for a awful lot of veterans, who end up finding their records lost, unable to get their benefits processed in a timely fashion.
He added, I'm asking both departments to work together to define and build a seamless system of integration with a simple goal: When a member of the Armed Forces separates from the military, he or she will no longer have to walk paperwork from a DOD duty station to a local VA health center; their electronic records will transition along with them and remain with them forever.
Obama acknowledged that creating such a system of records would be a challenge, but said the benefits would certainly be worth it.
It would cut through red tape and reduce the number of administrative mistakes. It would allow all VA sites access to a veteran's complete military medical record, giving them the information they need to deliver high-quality care, he said. And it would do all this with the strictest and most rigorous standards of privacy and security, so that our veterans can have confidence that their medical records can only be shared at their direction.
Obama added that under his budget VA coverage would be extended to 500,000 veterans who were previously denied services and expand treatment for mental health.
Untold thousands of servicemen and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or other serious psychological injury. The growing incidence of suicide among active military returning veterans is disturbing, he said. Sometimes the deadliest wounds are the ones you cannot see, and we cannot afford to let the unseen wounds go untreated.
He added, And that's why this budget dramatically increases funding for mental health screening and treatment at all levels.
Turning to the plight of homeless veterans, Obama plans to establish a pilot program to assist existing non-profit organizations work to keep veterans from losing their homes.
We will not rest until we reach a day when not one single veteran falls into homelessness, he said.
Remembering how his grandfather returned from World War II and went to college through the GI Bill, Obama pledged a similar commitment to the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Now it's our turn to help guarantee this generation the same opportunity that the greatest generation enjoyed by providing every returning service member with a real chance to afford a college education, he said.
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