President Barack Obama on Wednesday underscored progress in ending homelessness among veterans while advocating for additional reforms in helping them get an education and care.
The president highlighted a veteran unemployment rate which has dropped to 3.9 percent, a seven-year low. Virginia was expected to announce it has become the first state to end veteran homelessness statewide. Earlier this year, Connecticut officials announced that they were the first state in the country to end chronic homelessness among veterans.
“Still, the unacceptable problems that we’ve seen — like long wait times, and some veterans not getting the timely care that they need — is a challenge for all of us if we are to match our words with deeds," Obama said speaking from Arlington National Cemetery. "And 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.”
The president stressed that more could be done.
“Our tributes today will ring hollow if we do not ensure that our veterans receive the care that you have earned and that you deserve,” Obama said.
The administration’s efforts have been part of a push to turn the page more than a year after a scandal at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs rocked the agency. In April 2014, revelations surfaced that at least 40 veterans died while awaiting care at a facility operated by the VA in Phoenix, Ariz. Reports also showed that long wait lists were manipulated, possibly to artificially shrink long wait times.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development is expected to soon release the results of a national study on homelessness that will show a 36 percent decline in veteran homelessness between 2010 and January 2015, and a 50 percent decline in unsheltered homeless veterans.
First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden launched the “Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, an effort that includes over 800 city and county officials signing on to end veteran homelessness by year’s end.
Still, work remains.
There is a backlog of approximately 76,000 disability claims, an 88 percent reduction, but still short of the administration’s goals. Earlier this month, the VA sent Congress a plan identifying potential reforms aimed at improving care.
The president is renewing his call on Congress to reform the broken appeals process which the administration says “leaves veterans hanging — sometimes for years or even decades — waiting for a final decision on their appeal.”
The president is also backing legislation by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., aimed at preventing for-profit colleges from collecting more than 85 percent of their revenue from federal student loans and grants. Currently, such schools can get 90 percent of their revenue from federal sources and advocates for the rule change say it will discourage the for-profit colleges from aggressively targeting veterans for recruitment.