By Connie Stewart, Los Angeles Times
Hours after President Barack Obama returned from a surprise visit to American troops in Afghanistan, he paid tribute to the nation’s fallen defenders on Memorial Day and alluded to the VA health care crisis, pledging to ensure that veterans “get the care … they deserve.”
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki was among those who accompanied Obama to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, where the president spoke at the amphitheater and laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Shinseki is under fire over allegations that some VA medical facilities falsified documents to hide long waiting lists for care.
Obama noted Monday that he had just returned from Afghanistan and pledged that the nation would always honor veterans, including “the nearly 2,200 American patriots who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan.”
“As we’ve been reminded in recent days,” he said, “we must do more to keep faith with our veterans and their families, and ensure they get the care and benefits and opportunities that they’ve earned and that they deserve.”
The VA has struggled to care for aging World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans as those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan seek care.
Some lawmakers have called for Shinseki’s resignation, but Obama has stood by the retired Army four-star general, at least pending a probe into the allegations.
The VA’s inspector general is investigating 26 medical facilities, including in Phoenix, San Antonio and Fort Collins, Colo.; those findings are expected in August. Shinseki is to present a preliminary report to Obama this week.
At Arlington, Obama noted that this is the cemetery’s 150th anniversary.
“Here, in perfect military order, lie the patriots who won our freedom and saved the Union,” he said. “Here, side by side, lie the privates and the generals who defeated fascism and laid the foundation for an American century. Here lie the Americans who fought through Vietnam, and those who won a long twilight struggle against communism.
“And here, in Section 60, lie men and women who gave their lives to keep our homeland safe over more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Obama said.
“On these hallowed grounds,” he said, “we rededicate ourselves to our sacred obligations to all who wear America’s uniform. … These Americans have done their duty. They ask nothing more than that our country does ours — now and for decades to come.”
Drew Angerer/SIPA/Abaca Press/MCT