Jul 1, 2010

Pres Obama on Veterans Benefits - Raised the Veterans Administration's budget by 11 percent

From Wednesday's Town Hall Meeting in Racine, Wisconsin:

THE PRESIDENT: If you take a look at it -- first of all, our military has just been extraordinary. So much burden has been placed on them -- (applause) -- I mean, they've been fighting two wars now for a long time. And, frankly, a lot of folks have been going about their business, not really changing how they behave.

People in uniform have made all kinds of adjustments and their families have made all kinds of adjustments and sacrifices. That's part of the reason why, even though I've frozen discretionary domestic spending, I haven't frozen the budgets that are needed to give pay raises to our troops, to make sure that our veterans are properly cared for, to make sure that their families are getting support on things like child care. (Applause.) Because my attitude is, we've got a solemn obligation to those who put on the uniform to protect the United States of America.

And in the past, there have been times, frankly, where we didn't live up to that obligation. I mean, Veterans Affairs is a great example. When we came in, for all the talk about how we were going to take care of veterans, the truth was the backlogs were so bad and a lot of the facilities for veterans were just not up to snuff. So we actually raised the Veterans Administration's budget by 11 percent -- the biggest hike in 30 years -- just so we could catch up and start making sure that our veterans got the kind of care that they deserve. (Applause.)

Now, but what I may have been referring to is this. When you look at a place like Afghanistan, or you look at a place like Iraq, so many of our military personnel are having to engage in work that really should be civilian work -- helping to build schools, helping to build bridges, helping to set up rule of law and courts, helping -- agricultural specialists to help people learn how to irrigate their fields so that they can grow more food. And the problem is, is that we don't have a civilian effort that has always matched up to the military efforts.

So the military goes in there, they clear out everything, they're making everything secure -- and now the question is, all right, can we get the civilians to come in to work with the local governments to improve the situation. And a lot of times, that civilian side of it has been under-resourced.

So what I'm trying to say is, don't put all the burden on the military. Make sure that we've got a civilian expeditionary force that when we go out into some village somewhere and the military makes it secure, let's have that agricultural specialist right there. Let's have that person who knows how to train a police force right there. Let's have all those personnel and let's make sure that we are giving them the support that they need in order for us to be successful on our mission.

And that means that --by the way, the State Department, our diplomatic arms, we've got to give them more support. A lot of times -- we really support our military, but I'll be honest with you, when you go up to Congress and you start talking to them about the budget for training our diplomats and training our development specialists and all that, then people want to cut their budget because they think, well, that's just foreign aid, that's not -- we don't want to spend our money on that.

But the problem is, is that if you shortchange that, you may end up having to send our troops in to a very dangerous situation because a country has collapsed. We didn't do the good diplomatic work and it's too late, and now the only solution is a military solution that might cost us five times as much. So we've just got to be smart about using all the elements of American power, not just one element on American power. All right? (Applause.)

Okay. Right there in the green. Right there in the green blouse.

Q First of all, thank you very much for all that you do. (Applause.)

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