Obama, Who Sits on the VA Panel, Says He Was Inspired by Grandfather’s Service

Posted October 8, 2008 at 10:56am

Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama says his concern over the treatment of those returning from war is personal.

The junior Senator from Illinois says his deep interest in veterans affairs comes from watching his grandfather, who served in World War II and went to college on the GI bill.

Inspired by his service, Obama has been a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee since his arrival in the Senate in 2005.

“To America’s veterans, our country must speak with one voice: We honor your service, and we enter into a sacred trust with you from the moment you put on that uniform,” Obama said in an August 2007 speech in Kansas City, Mo.

“That trust is simple: America will be there for you just as you have been there for America,” he said.

One of Obama’s top priorities for those who have served is to improve the health care offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs so that it better suits today’s injuries and illnesses. For instance, the presidential hopeful wants to see more attention paid to improving treatment for polytrauma vision impairment, prosthetics and spinal cord injury.

Obama also wants to ensure that troops have the right training and that veterans have more options on their return. Earlier this year, he signed on as a co-sponsor of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007, which was signed into law in the summer. The bill appropriates money for more in-depth training for military personnel, while also providing room, board and tuition for veterans wishing to attend school.

As more and more troops return from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is a need for better mental health treatment, Obama says. He plans to recruit more mental health workers and improve screening and treatment for illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

“No service member should be kicked out of the military because they are struggling with untreated PTSD,” Obama told members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in his Kansas City speech. “We need more mental health professionals, more training to recognize signs and to reject the stigma of seeking care.”

The Illinois Senator also plans to ensure a seamless transition from the military back into civilian life. One step in this plan, Obama says, is to make certain that those being discharged from the military have electronic copies of their medical and service records. The presidential hopeful also plans to penalize businesses that discriminate against veterans and leave those returning from war without jobs.

“It’s not enough to lay a wreath on Memorial Day, or to pay tribute to our veterans in speeches,” Obama told the VFW members. “A proud and grateful nation owes more than ceremonial gestures and kind words.”