President Obama: New Veteran Bill 'Covers a Lot of Ground'

Obama says bill will expand survivor benefits and educational opportunities, as well as improve care for veterans.
22:34 | 08/07/14

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Transcript for President Obama: New Veteran Bill 'Covers a Lot of Ground'
And a live look right now -- -- Fort Belvoir in Fairfax county Virginia. President Obama are arriving there a short time ago and soon will sign into law a sixteen. Billion dollar measure to overhaul what many. Are calling completely broken system of veterans' -- in this country hello I'm Michelle president New York four months after a scandal exposing sub standard medical care. For thousands of men and women who serve their nation today a major step. To fix the problem joining me now from Washington ABC's senior national correspondent Jim -- -- in a place where there seems to be a little very little common ground this veterans' bill. Had rare bipartisan support the scandal surrounding VA care energized Washington and it into action. It did in fact -- show what they did was a pass a sixteen billion dollar bill. That will include. Lots of money for private doctors to be able to. New private doctors. -- also new doctors at the veterans clinics themselves. This -- separate money first of -- it will allow. Who allow patients that the veterans patients. A for the first time to actually go outside the clinics to get care and there will be paid will be allowed to visit doctors. Who are not. Factor comes the president now to explain more about that he's about -- That's what. And. Street. I think I'm gonna take -- I imagine Magruder on the wrong. -- -- them introduced me wherever I go. You got me excited. And I'm I'm -- get introduced all the time. So. Thank you James reared in incredible service for our country did give -- big round of applause. Also want -- -- a big thanks to America's new secretary of veterans affairs Bob McDonnell group here. Had about. As some you may know Bob. Headed up one of the biggest most successful companies. In the world. But he also -- west -- regret. Also -- Also -- ranger. Who served valiantly -- -- have this country. And this is a labor of love for him and he has hit the ground running. He's heading out to VA hospitals and clinics around the country starting with Phoenix tomorrow. So thank you Bob efforts excepting this charge in this challenging meg sure -- -- -- right environments I -- you're gonna do great job. We're proud of them. I want to thank all the members of congress who are here today I especially want to thank those who. Led the fight to give Bob and the VA moral of the resources and flexibility that they need to make sure every veteran has access to the care and benefits vapor. Senator Bernie Sanders. Richard burden. Robert -- that might this show. Robert -- Jeff Miller give them the ground ball thank you. And the good work. We are all grateful to our outstanding veterans service organizations brawl the work that they do a map our veterans. And their families so thank you very much -- to all veterans service organizations. Most of all want to thank general Buchanan and Sargent -- turn ball all of you who serve here at Fort Belvoir. For nearly a century. This base has helped. Keep America strong and secure. Seven years ago troops from here the 29 infantry division the blue and -- were some of the first to storm Omaha Beach. In recent years many view of deplored that Iraq and Afghanistan. -- -- lives on multiple tours to defend our nation. And as a country we have a sacred obligation. To serve you as well as you've served us. An obligation that doesn't end -- -- your tour of duty every day hundreds of thousands. A dedicated public servants at the VA help us honor that commitment. The VA hospitals across America you've got doctors and nurses. -- delivering world class care to America's veterans. Got millions of veterans and their families -- -- profoundly grateful for the good work that is done at the -- get. And as commander in chief I'm grateful to. But. Over the last few months. We discovered some inexcusable misconduct of some VA health care so. Stories of our veterans denied the care they needed. Long wait times being covered up cooking the books. As wrong. As outrageous. And working together we set out fixed and do right by our veterans across the board no matter how long it took. We've already taken the first steps to change the way the -- does business. We -- people accountable for misconduct some -- been relieved of their duties and investigations are ongoing. We've reached out to more than 2151000. Veterans so far. To make sure that we're getting them off wait lists and into clinics both inside and outside the VA system. We're moving ahead with the urgent reforms including stronger management and leadership and oversight and -- instituting. A critical culture of -- of building. Rebuilding our leadership -- starting of the top sector McDonnell. And one of he is his first acts. Is that he's directed all VA health care facilities to hold town hall to hear directly from the veterans that they serve. To make sure that we're hearing. Honest assessments. About what's going wrong. And a few minutes we'll take another step forward. When I sign -- the -- the VA reform bill that was passed overwhelmingly. The bipartisan majorities that doesn't happen often in congress. It's a good bill. Would help cover -- lot of ground. From expanding survivor benefits. And educational opportunities to improving care for veterans struggling. With traumatic brain injury and for victims of sexual assault. But today I want to focus on the way is this bill will help us ensure that veterans have access to the care that they were. First ball this will give the VA more of the resources that it needs. It'll help the VA hire more doctors more nurses and staff more Clemens. As new generation of veterans returned home from war and transitions in the civilian life. We -- to make sure the VA system can keep pace with that new demand keep in mind that I have yet. Increased funding for the VA since I came in office. By. Extraordinary amounts but. We also have extraordinary numbers of veterans coming home. And so the demand even though we've increased VA budget. Is still higher. Than. The resource is the we've got this bill helps to address that. Second for veterans who can't get timely care through the BA. This bill will help them get the care they need someplace else. And is particularly important for veterans who were in more remote areas and rural areas if you have more than forty miles -- -- -- result. Or -- VA doctors can't see you within a reasonable amount of time you'll have the chance to see a doctor outside the VA system. Finally we're giving the VA secretary more authority to -- people count. We've got. Give Bob the authority so that he can move quickly to remove senior executives who fail to me. The standards of conduct and competence that the American people demand. If you engage in an unethical practice if you cover up a serious problem you should be fired -- -- if you blow the whistle on unethical practice to bring a problem to the attention higher ups and should be thanked. You should be protected for doing the right -- It's. Have been more than. -- shouldn't be ignored and you certainly should be punished. To care for him or her. Who shall have borne the battle that's the heart of the VA's month. That's what the bill I'm about to someone help -- sheet but I want to be clear about something this. Will not and cannot be the end of our effort. Implementing this law will take time it's gonna require focus on the part of -- of -- And even as we focus on the urgent reforms we needed to -- eight right now. Particularly around wait -- in the health care system. We can't lose sight of our long term goals first service members and our veterans. The good news is we cut the disability claims backlog by more than -- But let's now eliminate the backlog. But the -- The good news report major resources and improving mental health care but now let's make sure our veterans actually get the care they need when they need. The good news is we've helped get thousands of homeless veterans off the street made an unprecedented effort to again. Veterans almost as we should have zero tolerance for that but we've got still more work to do and cities and towns across America to get more veterans. Into the homes they deserve. We've helped more than a million veterans and their spouses and children go to college -- the post 9/11 GI bill. But now we gotta help even more of them heard their educations and make sure the -- -- a good bargain. In the schools -- -- We rallied companies to hire hundreds of thousands of veterans and espouses that's the good news. With the help of Joseph Biden Michelle Obama. -- it pretty capable when. They know what they're -- and nobody says notable. Including me but now we've got to help more of -- highly skilled veterans -- careers in this new economy. So Americans do right by all who serve on -- part proud flag. And congress needs to do more also. I urge the senate once again to finally confirm my nominee for assistant secretary for policy of the -- Linda Schwartz. My nominee to lead to more of veterans appeals Constance to bias. My nominee for CFO. Helen Tierney. Each of them have been waiting for months for a yes or no vote. In constant skates for more than a year they're ready to serve they're -- to get to work. It's not that hard. Did it did didn't get used to be this hard to just go ahead and get somebody confirmed -- well qualified. Nobody says they're not it's just. The senate doesn't seem to move -- As soon as the senate gets back in September they should act to put these outstanding. Public servants in place. Our veterans don't have time for politics they need these public servants on the job right now. So so so let me wrap up by sector two months ago I had the chance to spend some time with some of America's oldest veterans. An Omaha Beach some you may have seen on television. The celebration. The commemoration. Those incredible days the seventh certainly of anniversary of ms. my second visit to democracies -- -- as second time I've gone as president. And -- -- if it's a place where it's impossible not to be moved by the courage and the sacrifice. A free men and women who volunteer to lay down their lives for people they've never met. Ideals. But they can't -- what that's why there won't do these things and and and some of these folks that you met. They were eighteen at the time some -- lied about the -- there were sixteen. Landing. -- either at the beach -- sometimes behind the -- The casualty rates were unbelievable. Being there brought back memories my -- grandfather marched in patton's are. And then came home and like so many veterans of his generation they went to school and got married and raise families. He eventually helped to raise me. And on that visit to Normandy. I brought some of today's service member's -- Because I want to introduce them to the veterans indeed and and and to show the veterans of that there's a direct line. Between the sacrifices -- the sacrifices the folks made. In remote places. Today. Because in more than a decade of war today's men and women in uniform all of you. You've met every mission we messed up. Today our troops continue to serve and risked their lives in Afghanistan. The continues to be -- difficult and dangerous mission as we were tragically reminded. Again this week in the attack -- injured -- number of our coalition troops and took the life of a bit dedicated. American soldier. Major general heard Harold -- Our prayers -- with every family as they are with all the gold star families -- those who sacrificed so much for our nation. Four months from -- our combat mission Afghanistan will be complete. -- longest war will. Come to an honorable and in the years to come many from this generation will step out of uniform. The legacy will be secure. But whether or not this country properly we -- is there her heroism. Properly -- -- their patriotism their service and their sacrifice that's in our hands. I'm committed to seeing. That we fulfill that commitment. Because the men -- -- of this generation is not eleven generation of service members are the leaders we need for our time. -- community leaders and business leaders. I hope maybe some leaders and our politics as well. From the greatest generation to the 9/11 generation America's heroes advance of the call to serve no greater honor than serving as your. President commander in chief and I have no greater privilege than the chance to help make sure that our country keeps -- promises that we've made. To everybody who signs up to serve as long as I hold this office we're gonna spend each and every day working to do right by you and your families. I'm grateful to you god bless you god bless America would that I'm going to sign this bill thank you very much about. And you've been listening to President Obama at Fort Belvoir where he is about to sign. A sweeping overhaul for the veterans affairs something that he calls urgent reform I want to bring in Jim Abdullah. Want to bring him back can't he give us an idea -- oh. How was this sweeping overhaul be received among veterans groups -- they considered this bill to be enough. Well in Denver two on Tuesday if -- deputy. Competitive veterans secretary. Sloan Gibson spoke to veterans and he said that people. Or listened to President Obama speaking -- -- World war. Good moral. Couldn't get we're committed wouldn't report them. -- They're completely. For. -- -- -- -- The members of congress but as I was saying -- Gibson said. That he expects the reforms take two years. And that could be -- the two years will be able to reduce the waiting time for veterans hospitals. And he believes from completing over. All in management and punish those who deserve to be punished. So that's the timetable that the administration is working on these changes in these -- this village you heard the president say. Are pretty. Fundamental what the biggest fundamental changes now veterans. Who -- who in the past were on waiting list. Will now be able to go outside the veterans affairs network of doctors and go to private doctors if they live more than forty miles away from -- VA clinic. Or if they've been on a waiting list for certain amount time that something new. And that will help help some of these veterans. Have been waiting a long time to get checkups and to get him to get follow up visits so that's an important measure that set. -- went to some ten billion dollars being spent on. Then of course the VA is hiring more doctors as well you're spending five billion dollars to hire doctors nurses and medical and mental health professionals. And one point three billion dollars to open 27 new VA outpatient clinics so that's going to be happening and as they say as I say. The VA is now put a timetable on it for two years to get this reform these reforms done completely and to reduce those. Terrible waits that were being hidden. By some the the administrators across the country. And let's talk about a little bit the choice of Robert McDonald to lead the -- he was sworn in last week she's a former CEO of Procter & Gamble. And let's talk about those new powers he has been afforded to have fired demote. Senior executive staff how will that help in the wake of criticism and the systemic problems. Well part of the this new bill does give him these powers -- talking about Michelle and the problem in the past had been. -- -- -- who is who said before congress. And in said that he could not do anything about it the people who were hiding. Some of these waits and -- and creating a secret list and the administrators that he didn't have the power. Under the under the rules -- the VA which protected workers. And hopeful to fire them to dismiss them. Now he's now the head of the VA has been given more power to dismiss and fire those. Who had been. And engaged in misconduct improving and engage in misconduct. And that is a huge deal that will help them reform. Supposedly the veterans administration. And the president also commending many of the other workers throughout the veterans affairs system saying that they will be afforded protections. Should they come forward with new cases. Yes whistle blowers he says -- going to be protected. And one thing that want to get across here is that. While this this was so rampant that the secret list of hiding of the delays. Happened at many hospitals across the country. What's -- thing is to. Getting into the -- it was very difficult it is to get indicate service once you've got there. The service is actually rated pretty well pretty good and in fact you get medical care that you can't get other places and that the reasons why military. Veterans go there especially. -- but especially veterans. Of the wars and in the Middle East and Iraq and Afghanistan is because. That that the veterans hospitals have pioneered. The new ways to treat head injuries. New ways to to treat. Other diseases and mental illnesses that affect soldiers and the care is wonderful once you get there the problem has been getting it. And Jim do we know even before this bill was signed Howell has the wait list. Has the waiting time been reduced dramatically in the months -- a followed. Well there has been quite a -- an effort to reduce the waiting times as you heard the president say they've reached out to the 2171000. Men and women who were on waiting list to get them appointments. Some to be moved to get their -- has moved up and yes there has been some improvement but I think. -- the president say also. That the the new the veterans administration. Secretaries gonna go on a tour. Of these hospitals and have town hall meetings in Phoenix beginning. And -- in Las Vegas beginning this week. And you're gonna hear more from the veterans -- those listen I think we'll find out a lot more about how -- How those lists have been going down or not from the veteran. Themselves to -- -- thank you for joining us -- A reminder you can keep up with seized about developments in real time by downloading the ABC news Athens starring. The veterans care overhaul story for exclusive updates on the go. For now I'm Michelle Franzen in New York.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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