During the campaign, President-elect Obama promised to make veterans' issues a priority if elected. While campaign promises are a dime a dozen, I sincerely hoped that our veterans and their families could rest assured that the tremendous challenges they are currently facing would finally be addressed. One of the key first steps to tackling the critical issues of our newest generation of veterans was for the new Administration to appoint its choice for VA Secretary, and I've frequently called on President-elect Obama to do just that. Today, on the 67th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, I am pleased to announce that the President-elect has made a historic selection: General Eric Shinseki has been tapped to be the new Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
General Shinseki has a record of courage and honesty, and I believe he is a bold choice to lead the VA. As a wounded and decorated combat veteran and the first Asian American in U.S. History to be a four-star general, General Shinseki has the potential to be an effective and dedicated advocate for veterans of all generations. He is a man that has always put patriotism ahead of politics, and is held in high regard by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. IAVA looks forward to supporting him to implement the historic change that is needed at the VA.
But General Shinseki has a monumental task before him. One in five veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are facing serious mental health injuries like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or depression. Wounded veterans are waiting months, sometimes years, to receive disability benefits. The struggling U.S. economy is hitting new veterans especially hard. And the new GI Bill, which will make college affordable to every veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, must be implemented by August 2009. To address these issues will require real leadership that encourages active VA outreach and transparency. We recommend General Shinseki to move quickly to add Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to key positions in his senior staff.
So far, the new Administration has been saying the right things about veterans' issues. President-elect Obama has talked about eradicating homelessness among veterans, addressing the high unemployment rates, and making adequate mental health care available to our troops and veterans. Michelle Obama has also called military families one of the issues she cares most about. But we'll be watching carefully to make sure these campaign promises are kept. And we look forward to working closely with General Shinseki and the new Administration to ensure every veteran in this country gets the care and support they have earned.
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