Last month, President Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to former Captain William D. Swenson, United States Army, for heroism and gallantry above and beyond the call of duty in the Battle of the Ganjgal Valley on September 8, 2009.

During 6 hours of intense combat, Captain Swenson did everything expected of leaders and more—keeping his ambushed unit fighting effectively, directing available fires, evacuating the wounded, and leading by example in repeatedly risking his personal safety to retrieve wounded Soldiers and Marines, Afghan allies, and fallen comrades.

Captain Will Swenson would tell you that there were many more heroes in the Ganjgal that day.

In the President’s words, “[In] moments like this, Americans like Will remind us of what our country can be at its best—a Nation of citizens who look out for one another; who meet our obligations to one another, not just when it is easy, but also when it’s hard.  Maybe, especially when it’s hard.”

At the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), we are honored to walk amongst, as well as work with, such heroes every day.

Today, less than 1% of our population shoulders the responsibilities of our national defense through their service in uniform, and just over 7% of all living Americans are Veterans.  Veterans Day presents the opportunity to ask ourselves, “For their selfless service and willing sacrifice, what do Veterans need and deserve?”

What Veterans deserve is access to high quality and safe healthcare, benefits and servicesthat buoy them against the rigors of military service, education that prepares them fully for their next success, safe and affordable housing, and meaningful and satisfying employment.  At VA, we are privileged to deliver on the promises of the American people to those from whom we ask everything.

VBA employees assist SFC David Simmons with his VA benefits enrollment.

In the last 5 years, we have enrolled more than two million Veterans into VA healthcare.  Since March of this year, we have reduced the backlog in compensation claims from a record high of 611,000 to about 400,000, a decrease of 211,000 claims in 230 days—while increasing the accuracy of claims we process.  We will eliminate the backlog in compensation claims in 2015.

We also committed to ending Veterans homelessness in 2015.  Between 2009 and 2012, during a period of prolonged economic recovery, we have reduced the number of homeless Veterans by 17%, breaking previous patterns of increased homelessness during difficult economies.  More needs to be done, but we have achieved a remarkable reversal.  We expect another decrease this year.

Our gratitude for Veterans should not be a one day a year event, but an abiding commitment on every day of every year.  There must be no question that this large and powerful country will meet its obligations to them with the same urgency, skill, and determination as it deploys them on critical missions when our Nation calls.

On this Veterans Day, every Veterans Day hereafter, and every day between them, Veterans must know that this Nation will keep Lincoln’s promise to care for those “who shall have borne the battle” and their families.

I am honored to serve with the dedicated people of VA, and we are all privileged to serve with a President who has provided over a 56% increase to our budget requests so we can provide for the 7% of Americans, who are Veterans, what they need, deserve, and have earned.  They answered their calls to duty; let us continue to answer ours.

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Published on Nov. 11, 2013

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  1. KDoyle November 23, 2013 at 11:51 am


    My friend is trying to get 100% disability from the VA for TBI, hearing loss, PTSD, and a few other things.
    What we are trying to figure out is this:
    He is on track to become a pilot. If he receives 100% disability, will that affect/hurt his chances of becoming a commercial pilot and/or getting his private and commercial pilot’s licenses?

  2. Jan English November 21, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    I have had three motorizes chairs with elevators from the VA in the past fifteen years. I have a lemon and have had more batteries and repairs than this chair’s worth. It finally quit, and I was denied formally because I don’t have the loss of use of three limbs, but if my condition worsens, let them know.

    Unofficially, the reason I was given by the chief of the hospital was that there were safety issues. I refuse to drive on the sidewalk when taking my official prosthetic service dog, Chayna, but insist on driving in the street. I live 1 1/2 miles from the cross street where there are sidewalks. There are no sidewalks at all in my subdivision! When I explained this to the Director of the hospital at Mountain Home, TN , Ms. Charlene Ehret, she told me she didn’t care, I was not going to get a chair unless Washington told her to.

    I borrowed a chair from the DAV to take Chayna for her walks and that is all I can do with it. I can’t cook, I can’t reach the stove, I can’t use it to go the grocery store or any place, my caregiver drives me and has to push me in VA standard chair that doesn’t even hold the brakes.

    There is nothing regarding safety issues in my letter of refusal. Please help.

  3. judy November 20, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    Please support Post 911 Caregivers Benefits for all veterans.
    Viet Nam Vets still need more help from diseases they may have been a result of exposure whtether they are linked or not linked.

  4. Deborah November 20, 2013 at 6:32 pm

    I’m sure that you are doing the best you can with the resources that you have; however, I have not had much success in receiving assistance.

  5. mike November 15, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    Hope these numbers there bragging about are truthful because my claim has been waiting since july 2011 in here we are november2013 29months later with no resolution im on over 10 different meds, oxygen therapy, walk with a cane and braces cant work and for some reason the va can never give you a straight forward answer except that there backed up

  6. Adam Obest November 13, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    To the SGM (Ret.): Thank you for your service and leadership. I hope your thoughts and words are considered in their follow up decisions and monitoring of this VA blog.
    As to the article: I appreciate the communication from the former 4-star General and am happy they are at least attempting to tackle the backlog of claims that has put a stain on the reputation of the VA in serving veterans when they get out and seek help. It may be crucial and life threatening or just routine, but all veterans deserve our greatest gratitude and each of them have earned all their benefits. Thanks.
    SSG Adam Obest

  7. LailaS November 13, 2013 at 8:21 am

    First of all, my salute to Captain Will for the heroic work.
    I and my husband, both come from Army background and we understand what it takes to server for your country. Now our grandparents are retired and need little attention, affection and care, we forget to give them and are busy with our day to day course.
    We have decided to do something to support these veterans and make them feel happy. Any suggestion from you guys?

  8. MR November 12, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    “What Veterans deserve is access to high quality and safe healthcare, benefits and services that buoy them against the rigors of military service, education that prepares them fully for their next success, safe and affordable housing, and meaningful and satisfying employment.” I completely agree. My father is a 100% disabled vet, and several Uncles and 1 Aunt have. I am concerned with recent business reports about VA insurance and how the Affordable Care Act will impact my fathers health insurance. Do you have any resources that you could point us too?

    • Adam Obest November 13, 2013 at 3:25 pm

      To answer your question, veterans who have signed up under the VA Health Care System should have received a letter (like I did) that exempts them from the individual mandate and subsequent fee that will go in effect in 2014 under the Affordable Health Care Act.
      SSG Obest

  9. Denis La Bine November 12, 2013 at 7:41 am

    I am a veterans disabled 4 stroke, 1 heart attack and lost of memory at hospital after that surgery may 2000. My last stroke was at Loma Linda veterans hospital ER parking lot driving in for an appointment June 25 2012. I was eligitable, verified by department of veterans affairs in Washington, D.C., by eligibility director Reynolds who produced my honorable verified discharge, I submitted all documents, but va claims it was not service connected and stopped my medical and perscriptions now about 17 weeks ago. How can my country who now flies to help so many people over seas due to a massive storm, simply wash off a veteran with such unacceptable actions to me at home? There is no answers to wash away these unhumanitarian care fir a homeless vet, that was verified under means qualifications, but yet still dumped, cancelled and denied medical help, that now lost, vision, lost hearing, and have now diabetes and dysphasia from stroke , plus told I am terminal? Yes was told by primary who filed disability on dec 4 2012 that I was going to get monthly payments with, 8 months, was yet another government delay to get financial and medical help, I have no other voice than mine to speak before I die, this is another door that nobody reads here fir those of us, Vets R Us as my website I created speak but gov does listen, as my friend and whitehouse did call to have me processed, was told give me 3 to 4 days, and now going on a yrs of no actions, but I must give credit to my friend Mister President Obama for making that call to be helpful and for whitehouse also to step forward to render a simple process to be processed without further delays, thank you Mr President and your staff for doing that means a lot to me.
    All words and docs was done, but the constant denials from different doors proves beaurocracy is to blame for many vets who have left us by inability to communicate the process continues to fail with consistency. As always this will go into the round file of denied.

  10. Dr. David Hatfield, SGM, US Army (Ret) November 11, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    Mr. Secretary, we are all happy to see the backlog being whittled down. The numbers you’ve been getting and what has been fed to the public, are a little disingenuous, though. My second claim, which sat in the VARO for three years with no action, was part of the big push to clear out all claims over two-years old. Our helpful VA staff at the VARO even called me – four times, insisting I sign a waiver for them to proceed with my case before the big public announcement of what a great job they had done.

    It took me a couple of days to find all the new information, including the fact I’d lost my job because of my GWI. I sent it to my VSO, who passed it along to the VARO folks, and I got my decision in the mail three days later. Everything denied in the one day they had all the evidence – except for volumes one and two of my C-File, which they couldn’t find. Of course, they denied some things I hadn’t claimed, mixed up the items I did claim, and it was a total mess. But, that same week, in a big press conference, it was announced you had cleared 95% of those claims over two-years old. Of course, now it goes into the Appeals channel, with my original claim that’s been there for 5 years and still hasn’t left the RO. So your ROs have basically shifted hundreds of thousands of us from the “Interminable Wait” line to the “You’ll be dead before we get to your appeal” line. I’m not sure that’s really progress.

    Now that the RAC is destroyed, not only will we not get the financial support we need, there won’t even be any medical care for our illnesses. Something has to give, Mr. Secretary. The process we now use, if you can call it a process, is very anti-Veteran and adversarial instead of collaborative, as it’s supposed to be. Even if it takes recalling thousands of us old retired folk to come in and review everything and start adjudicating claims in the fast lane, I’m for it. You have to either help us get something going now, or you need to step aside and let someone who is willing to lead all we veterans and either demand or disband the current VA roadblocks to our health and compensation.

    Thank you.

  11. Dr. David Hatfield, SGM, US Army (Ret) November 11, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    Mr. Secretary, there is no doubt the VA has done some wonderful things for veterans, this year and for many years back. I have always had great respect for you, and thought the VA would finally have a Soldiers’ Soldier to lead this dysfunctional agency. I’m losing my faith now, though. The one accomplishment you left off the list, though, was allowing your staff to decimate the Research Advisory Committee (RAC) for Gulf War Illness. A quarter of a million of us are still sick, although many have died already, and the VA position is still that it’s all in our heads – shell shock, combat fatigue, somatoform disorders, or the mysterious Multisymptom Illness or Medically Unexplained Symptoms – terms which VBA will never even try to understand.

    Your staff got your new Interim Chief of Staff to push a new charter that destroys any hope of VA ever discovering the cause, treatment, or a cure for GWI. After delaying the start of the Congressionally-directed RAC for years, once it started working and getting some answers, your staff got scared that we might find out they had been scamming us all for years. It finally got too hot for them, and they pushed this new charter and dramatic, wholesale changes to the RAC membership, from which it will take years to recover. Eliminating the independent RAC staff and seizing control of the budget and handing it off to the very people at VA who didn’t want the RAC and didn’t want us to find out anything at all, was the real death blow to the RAC, though.

    We must be able to return the charter to an earlier version, which reflected what Congress had intended. It’s time to stop letting bureaucrats stand between our health and our death. I beg of you, Mr. Secretary, please help us reconstitute the RAC with its original purpose documented and the VA roadblocks removed, so we can at least have hope that something is being done that might help us live.

  12. Wehart K. Hosea November 11, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    I think that the Va has done a tremendous job since it has come under your leadership. It has only been recently that I have come to deal with the horrors of my past military history and have sought out the VA for assistance. Keep up the good work.

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