Watch President Obama's remarks in Atlanta, Georgia at 1:35pm ET.
What service means to Carmen McGinnis, a former Marine
Carmen McGinnis, a former Marine who now helps other veterans as a staff member at DAV (Disabled American Veterans), sent the below message to the White House email list. Didn't get the email? Sign up for updates here.
I knew I wanted to be a Marine by the time I was 16.
I was inspired by my uncle, who was a door gunner in Vietnam for two tours. He never really talked about it, but I always knew how proud he was to be a Marine. People told me that I couldn't or wouldn’t join — but that only made me more determined.
So, on the afternoon of the day after my 17th birthday, I enlisted in the Marine Corps. That day happened to be September 11, 2001.
I was deployed to southwest Afghanistan in 2004 and served as a radar repairman with ballistic missile defense. It was there, just outside of Kandahar, where I injured my back for the first time.
Then, I was accepted into the competitive Marine Security Guard School and served as a guard at American embassies across the world — throughout that time, my back was injured again and again. I also acquired severe insomnia from shift work and survived a sexual assault that made me feel isolated.
These injuries left me in constant pain. Along with experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, I endured some of the darkest times in my life.
But soon, I found an opportunity that gave me hope.
I took a position at DAV (Disabled American Veterans), an organization that empowers disabled veterans and their families to lead their lives with the full range of benefits available to them. Today, I serve as a National Service Officer, where I get to draw on my own experiences to help other disabled veterans with their recovery, through compassion and empathy.
In this work, I have seen firsthand how President Obama's efforts to serve veterans have made an impact. I appreciate his actions to ensure that the backlog of disability claims and appeals gets addressed. And I personally saw the number of mental health professionals increase in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Addressing mental health for veterans still needs work, but it's better than it was.
That's why I'm proud to welcome President Obama at the Disabled Veterans Convention today in Atlanta, Georgia, where he'll speak about the progress we've made for veterans and the ways we can continue expanding opportunities for our service members, veterans, and their families. I hope you'll watch along with me at 1:35 pm Eastern.
I feel that I've survived what I've survived for a reason: to learn that my real strength comes from helping others. I absolutely love that I get to wake up every day and help change people's lives. Not many people can say that.
Thanks for listening,
National Area Supervisor at DAV
Our record on serving veterans and the work ahead
Over the past seven and a half years, the President has maintained a steadfast commitment to serve our nation’s veterans.
From delivering more health care than ever before, to providing veterans the benefits they have earned in a timely way, to expanding cutting edge research in areas like Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), to helping veterans get the education and jobs they need to succeed, the Administration has an indisputable record of support for our veterans.
Today, the President will announce two new milestones in this effort:
- Since launching a nationwide strategy in 2010 to prevent and end homelessness, the Administration has worked with state and local partners to cut veteran homelessness nearly in half.
- As part of the President’s Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI), 500,000 veterans have voluntarily donated their health data to the future of science and medicine through the VA’s Million Veteran Program (MVP), marking a critical halfway point to the goal of signing up one million veterans.
Moving forward, the President and the entire Administration will keep fighting in five core areas of service to our nation’s veterans.
1. Health care
An essential part of this commitment is ensuring veterans receive the health care they need, when they need it. VA continues to make progress in this effort, increasing access to care and ensuring veterans are satisfied with their care.
- VA has dramatically increased access to care for our veterans, completing approximately 57.84 million appointments from June 2015 through May 2016, and completing nearly 97% of the appointments within 30 days.
- VA has increased its total clinical work by 10% over the last two years. That translates into roughly 20 million more hours spent providing care for veterans.
- 90% of veterans surveyed are either “satisfied” or “completely satisfied” with the timeliness of their care.
But there's still more work to be done. Here are just a few ways the VA continues to execute on a number of strategies to increase access to care:
- Expanding care in the community – VA continues to increase options for care for veterans, authorizing 3.2 million instances of care in the community from June 2015 through May 2016, 7% more than the prior year. In addition, VA put forward a comprehensive plan last October to rationalize its various care in the community programs, creating a single program that is easy to understand, simple to administer, and meets the needs of veterans, community providers, and VA staff.
- Increasing clinic hours – Over the last 2 years, VA has increased total clinical work by 10%, which translates into roughly 20 million more hours of care for veterans.
- Getting veterans off wait lists – VA has hosted two National Access Stand Down events at all VA Medical Centers, with the goal of addressing urgent health care needs and getting veterans off of waiting lists.
- Making enrollment easier – In June 2016, VA released a new digital health care application, making it easier for veterans to enroll in VA health care.
Three and a half years ago, nearly 610,000 veterans disability claims were stuck in a backlog waiting for longer than 125 days, and the VA did not have the capacity to keep up with an increasing number of claims. But by transforming internal processes and putting in place a new electronic system to move beyond the archaic paper-based system that was in place, VA has made extraordinary progress. Take a look:
- VA has reduced the disability compensation claims backlog by nearly 90% over the last three and a half years, taking the number from a high of over 610,000 to under 80,000 today.
- A combination of increased productivity and modernized technology has allowed the VA to process a record-breaking 1.4 million claims in the last fiscal year alone.
- Veterans with a pending claim are waiting, on average, 192 days less for a claim decision, from a peak of 282 days in March 2013 to 90 days today.
- VA has put forward an aggressive plan to modernize the appeals process, ensuring that the vast majority of veterans who, today, are waiting an average of at least three years on their appeals, can have a clear path forward within one year.
The VA has taken what steps it can to improve the current claims appeals process, including introducing a new tool to improve internal processing. But what is needed is broad reform, and the problem is only going to get worse until Congress acts. That is why the President is reiterating his call for comprehensive legislative modernization of the appeals process.
Ending veteran homelessness is a national imperative. And beginning in 2010 with the release of Opening Doors, the nation’s first-ever strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness, the Administration has dedicated itself to this goal. Here's the progress we've made:
- Overall veteran homelessness has decreased by 47% since 2010, and unsheltered homelessness has decreased by 56%.
- Cities and states across the country – from the Commonwealth of Virginia and the State of Connecticut, to the cities of New Orleans and Houston – have announced that they have put an end to veteran homelessness.
- The First Lady and Dr. Biden have launched the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, with over 800 city and county officials signing on to end veteran homelessness.
The Administration is also announcing that, later this fall, the First Lady will be holding an event with local officials, non-profits, federal partners, private sector partners, advocates, and veterans to celebrate this extraordinary progress, announce additional milestones in the fight to end veteran homelessness, and underscore the federal, state and local partnerships that have been essential to our success, as a blueprint for this critical work to continue in coming years.
4. Economic Opportunity
When veterans return home from their service to our country, we must ensure they have the opportunities and resources they need to succeed. The Administration continues to work to make sure veterans are provided opportunities to fulfill the American dream. Take a look:
• The veteran unemployment rate has now dropped to 4.2%, compared to a high of 9.9% in January 2011.
• The unemployment rate for Post-9/11 veterans is 4.4% today, down from a high of 15.2% in January 2011.
• Since the launch of the Joining Forces initiative in 2011, more than 1.2 million veterans and military spouses have been trained or hired.
• In May 2016, the First Lady announced a commitment of an additional 170,000 new hiring and training commitments from 50 companies in the telecommunications, aerospace, and tech sectors over the next five years.
The President has also made it a priority to ensure veterans and their families have access to the high-quality education they need to succeed. And that starts with the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Since its inception in 2009, the Post-9/11 GI Bill has provided $65.2 billion in education benefits to over 1.6 million individuals.
- All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories are now providing recently transitioning veterans and their dependents with in-state tuition rates at public institutions of higher learning.
- The GI Bill Comparison Tool has received over 3.2 million unique page views with over one million schools searched since it was launched in 2014. The GI Bill Comparison helps estimate GI Bill benefits, research certain school attributes, and compare educational institutions.