Obama to veterans: This time of war coming to end
ORLANDO - A dozen years of war are winding down, but the job of caring for for veterans new and old is only just beginning, Barack Obama told thousands of veterans in Orlando Saturday.
"So long as I'm president of United States I will make it my mission to make sure America is right beside you every step of the way," Obama told a Disabled American Veterans national convention.
The president and first lady addressed a Hilton ballroom loaded with military caps, motorized scooters and wheelchairs, and more than 3,000 veterans before heading to Martha's Vineyard for a family vacation.
"I'm not going be satisfied until every veteran and every man and woman gets the support and gets the care they need to stay strong," the president said.
Four years ago, when he last addressed the Disabled Veterans national convention, the president promised to cut the backlog of outstanding claims with the Veterans Administration. In fact, the backlog of claims that have been in the system at least 125 days has ballooned during the Obama administration, in part because more veterans have become eligible for care, including those disabled by Agent Orange and suffering from post-traumatic distress disorder.
"We are not where we need to be but we are making progress," Obama said. "Finally the backlog is shrinking. In the last five months alone, the backlog is down nearly 20 percent. We're turning the tide."
A few protesters outside the Hilton Orlando greeted the president with signs including "Kenyan Go Home" and "Impeach Obama" but inside the ballroom the crowd appeared overwhelmingly enthusiastic.
Veterans repeatedly noted how the president had ramped up funding for veterans services and staffing.
"I used to get to the hospital for an 8 o'clock appointment and not get into see a doctor until 5 o'clock," said Salvador Ayala, an 83-year-old former Korean War paratrooper from California. "Now I get to the hospital at 8:30, and they see me at 8:30. It's night and day."
Andy Marshall, a Vietnam veteran from St. Petersburg, said frustration from veterans has subsided dramatically in recently years.
"Obama has increased health care funding for veterans by 40 percent. It's hard to ask for more," he said.
Obama made a point of assuring the crowd that their benefits would remain unchanged under Obamacare, and he drew cheers when he noted the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are winding down.
"This work is more important than ever," he said of veterans services, "because this time of war that we've been in is coming to an end."