President Admonished for Overlooking Veterans in SOTU
Opportunity missed to back Clay Hunt SAV Act and restore faith after VA scandal
WASHINGTON, D.C. (January 20, 2015) – Tonight, President Obama failed to address critical priorities for the veteran community, including restoring trust in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) after last summer’s scandals and reforming veteran mental health care services. Despite praising the Joining Forces initiative to improve veteran unemployment and mentioning the VA disability claims backlog, the President remained silent on critical veterans issues.
Particularly disappointing was the President’s failure to affirm his administration’s support for urgent passage of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act – historic bipartisan legislation that will increase access to quality mental health care and combat veteran suicide. With 22 veterans dying by suicide every day, IAVA has partnered with more than 20 veteran service organizations and partners and lawmakers from both parties to promote the bill, named after Marine veteran Clay Hunt who died by suicide in 2011.
“Tonight, the Commander-in-Chief once again thanked our veterans and servicemembers for their selfless service to our country. However, actions speak louder than words,” said IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff. “Yes, the President must speak to many constituencies in the State of the Union, but no other group fought and sacrificed for its country like veterans. After the VA scandal and marking more than 13 years of combat, veterans were hoping for a proactive policy agenda from our President. As the recent success of the film “American Sniper” attests, our country is beginning a sober discussion on the impact of the post-9/11 wars on our servicemembers, their families and our country, and we had hoped for the President to lead that conversation. He didn’t.”
Rieckhoff continued, “This next year will be crucial for the veteran community as more servicemembers return home and transition to civilian life. But in the address tonight, the President rarely mentioned veterans. Veterans exist, and many among us need assistance, particularly in the often overlooked area of mental health care. But we refuse to have our issues swept under the rug, and we will not rest until Congress passes and the President signs the Clay Hunt SAV Act, designed to combat the tragedy of 22 veterans dying by suicide every day.”
“Furthermore, in last year’s address the President committed to slashing the VA’s disability claims backlog. A year later, we are nowhere near “backlog zero.” Currently, more than 242,000 veterans are still waiting to get the benefits they earned. The state of the union is strong, but the state of the VA is still smoldering. Last summer, IAVA members and veterans across the country were shocked to learn about the alleged misconduct and wrongdoing at VA hospitals. For many veterans, the VA health care system is their only health care system. While we appreciate the efforts of Sec. McDonald and his team to enact reforms, we are frustrated the President did not mention how he will restore veterans’ faith in the VA after months of scandal. Our veterans don’t deserve to be ignored,” said Rieckhoff.
IAVA looks forward to Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) delivering the Republican response to the State of the Union Address. As the first female combat veteran elected to serve in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Ernst is in a unique position to fight for the nation’s veterans, particularly the female soldiers who bravely served the country. Sen. Ernst served in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and currently serves as a Lt. Colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard. IAVA urges her to publicly address the veteran suicide crisis and to endorse urgent passage of the SAV Act as well.
At IAVA offices in Washington, D.C. and New York City, veterans attended SOTU watch parties and live-tweeted the President’s address using the hashtag #SOTUVets.