Obama Tells Veterans He Will Fix Health System, as New Report Lists Lapses

   < < Go Back
from The New York Times,

President Obama on Tuesday promised several thousand military veterans that he would fulfill his “sacred trust” to those returning from America’s wars by overhauling a dysfunctional health care system, even as a new report documented “unacceptable and troubling lapses” in medical treatment.

Addressing the American Legion’s national convention three months after a scandal rocked the Department of Veterans Affairs and forced the resignation of the agency’s leader, Mr. Obama said he had “made real progress” in improving services and getting patients off waiting lists. But he added that he was “very clear eyed about the problems that still are there” and about the need to “regain the trust” of veterans.

“What we’ve come to learn is that the misconduct we’ve seen at too many facilities — with long wait times and veterans denied care and folks cooking the books — is outrageous and inexcusable,” Mr. Obama said to polite, though not enthusiastic, applause. “We are going to get to the bottom of these problems. We’re going to fix what is wrong. We are going to do right by you and do right by your families. And that is a solid pledge and commitment I’m making to you here.”

Mr. Obama’s speech came less than an hour before the inspector general at the Department of Veterans Affairs released a report on long delays and falsified waiting lists at the veterans medical center in Phoenix, where whistle-blowers this spring alleged that 40 veterans had died because of delays in care.

The report found no direct connection between delays and patient deaths.

Accompanied [by secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert A. McDonald,] the president used his visit to the American Legion convention to announce several additional steps, using his executive authority, to make it easier for veterans to receive mental health care and to lower their housing costs. Among other things, members of the military leaving service will be automatically enrolled in the department’s transition program, rather than having to seek it out themselves or requiring referrals.

The volatile politics of the Veterans Affairs scandal was evident as the president landed in Charlotte, where he was met on the tarmac by Senator Kay Hagan, a Democrat who is locked in a tight race for re-election this fall in a state that Mr. Obama won in 2008 but lost four years later. Days earlier, Ms. Hagan said the Obama administration had “not yet done enough to earn the lasting trust of our veterans.” On the tarmac, she moved to shake Mr. Obama’s hand; he kissed her on the cheek.

More From The New York Times: