U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health, And Iraq Accountability Act, 2007

Floor Speech

By:  Barack Obama II
Date: March 27, 2007
Location: Washington, DC



Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, toward the end of World War II, Norman Rockwell created a cover for the Saturday Evening Post titled ``Homecoming GI.'' It is a picture of a soldier returning from war. He has a duffle bag clutched in his left hand. He is looking up at the back of a brick building with laundry hanging from the back porch. A woman in an apron sees him with outstretched arms, and a young child races down the stairs. Everyone sees that soldier--the neighbors' kids, the man fixing the roof, faces from another window--and everyone welcomes that soldier who has come home from war.

That is what our Nation did for the millions of servicemembers who returned from the Atlantic and the Pacific. We watched them come home in waves. Some were just as strong as their first day in battle; others limped. We saw them crowd Times Square. We saw them walk down Main Street and sit on stoops. My grandfather, who fought in Patton's army, would often speak about this time as America at its finest. That homecoming didn't just happen; we were ready for it.

Long before the beaches of Normandy were stormed and the last battle was fought, in 1943 President Roosevelt said:

Among many other things, we are, today, laying plans for the return to civilian life of our gallant men and women in the armed services. They must not be demobilized into an environment of inflation and unemployment, to a place on a bread line, or on a corner selling apples. We must, this time, have plans ready instead of waiting to do a hasty, inefficient, and ill-considered job at the last moment.

These are the words of wisdom that we ignore at our peril.

Today we have more than 631,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan and other parts of the global war on terror. According to a recent VA health care report, one-third--more than 205,000--have sought treatment at VA health facilities.

Even if the war in Iraq comes to an end soon--and I hope the Senate takes action this week to accomplish that goal--the war will live on with our servicemembers and their families for the rest of our lives.

Unfortunately, over the past month, we have all seen the disturbing pictures of neglect at Walter Reed. We have read about bats and bureaucratic redtape at the VA. We have seen too many stories about our veterans who have been forgotten--not greeted by the Nation that asked them to serve. The time has come for us to see this generation of veterans in all their valor and pain. We should provide them with a plan that is worthy of their courage and will help build back the military they love.

That is what Senator McCaskill and I are trying to do with the amendment we offer today.

First, we provide an additional $41 million to hire more caseworkers to assist servicemembers navigating the military's bureaucracy. The last thing a wounded servicemember should have to face when they return home is a front line of paperwork and delay. Right now, the caseworker-to-service-member ratio at Walter Reed is 1 to 50. Caseworkers help recovering soldiers schedule appointments, take care of their everyday needs, and fill out paperwork. Military caseworkers are overwhelmed. I understand the Army is reducing the caseworker-to-service-member ratio to 1 to 17, and I applaud this move. Our amendment would help the military achieve this goal at all military hospitals.

Our amendment also provides $30 million for the Armed Forces to create an Internet-based system for servicemembers to submit their paperwork electronically. No longer will amputees and servicemembers in wheelchairs have to go to countless offices to fill out duplicative forms only to learn that the forms have been lost in Government bureaucracy.

We also need to do more to increase the number of mental health crisis counselors available to assist recovering servicemembers and their families. Too many servicemembers are returning home with unmet mental health needs--stresses that are often experienced by their family members.
That is why our amendment provides $17 million for more mental health crisis counselors.

While we all praise how our country treated the servicemembers returning from World War II, we must remember the lessons after Vietnam. The landmark National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study was congressionally mandated in 1983, 15 years after the height of that war. The completed report showed the vast majority of Vietnam veterans had successfully acclimated to postwar life.

We can't wait 15 years to plan and prepare for the readjustment needs of the servicemembers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The average age of a servicemember deployed since September 11 is 27. The average age of our Guard and Reserves is 33. Sixty percent of those deployed have family responsibilities, and 47 percent of those who have died have left families. Mr. President, 160,000 women

have been deployed, and 10 percent of those women are single mothers. These men and women are going to face real challenges in readjusting to normal life.

Our amendment would provide for a study by the National Academy of Sciences of the mental health and readjustment needs of returning servicemembers. This study will assist the Department of Defense, the Veterans' Administration, and Congress in planning for the long-term needs of our veterans.

Last week I met a woman at Walter Reed. She is one of the 160,000 women who have been deployed, and she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Most of us associate PTSD with men in combat, but many of the women in theater face firsthand dangers in their combat support roles. Driving a truck in Baghdad is one of the most dangerous missions around, and it is considered a support role. Women are witnessing the horrors of improvised explosive devices and the horrors of losing fellow servicemembers, and too many are experiencing the trauma of sexual harassment or abuse.

This young woman was very scared, and she trembled as we spoke. I asked her what we could do to help. She said that she could not handle group therapy sessions; she could only tolerate one-on-one sessions with counselors. Her experience is shared by many women. Treatment for women with PTSD, especially sexual abuse victims, is very different from treatment for men.

That is why as part of our amendment we want to provide $15 million to address the unique mental health needs of women. This funding will ensure the development and implementation of a women's treatment program for mental health conditions, including PTSD. It will also include the hiring and training of sexual abuse counselors so that the servicemembers who suffer from this trauma do not have to suffer in silence. We can do this for the woman I met at Walter Reed and the thousands who suffer like her.

The total cost of our amendment is $103 million--less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the total cost of this bill. This is the least we can do for our servicemembers recovering at Walter Reed and other military hospitals.

I am proud that Veterans For America has endorsed our amendment, and I ask unanimous consent that their letter of endorsement be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD


Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, we gather on another occasion to bring the Iraq war to its fateful end. While this effort may fall short again, we will continue to try to do what is in the national security of our country.

The Iraq war should never have been authorized. I was proud to say so in 2002, but I am even more proud of the plan I have offered that calls for combat to begin redeploying on May 1 with the goal of all combat troops out of Iraq by March 2008.

We also must make sure that we are not as careless getting out of this war as we were getting in, and that is why this withdrawal should be gradual, and keep some U.S. troops in the region to prevent a wider war in the region and go after al-Qaida and other terrorists.

Those who would have us continue this war in perpetuity like to say that this is a matter of resolve on behalf of the American people. But the American people have been extraordinarily resolved. They have seen their sons and daughters killed or wounded on the streets of Fallujah. They have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on this effort--money that could have been devoted to strengthening our homeland security and our competitive standing as a nation.

No, it has not been a failure of resolve that has led us to this chaos, but a failure of strategy--a strategy that has only strengthened Iran's strategic position; increased threats posed by terrorist organizations; reduced U.S. credibility and influence around the world; and placed Israel and other nations friendly to the United States in the region in greater peril.

Iraq has been a failure of strategy and that strategy must change. It is time to bring a responsible end to this conflict because there is no military solution to this war.

Before we send our best off to battle in the future, we must remember what led us to this day and learn from the principles that follow.

We must remember that ideology is not a foreign policy. We must not embark on war based on untested theories, political agendas or wishful thinking that have little basis in fact or reality. We must focus our efforts on the threats we know exist, and we must evaluate those threats with sound intelligence that is never manipulated for political reasons again.

We must remember that the cost of going it alone is immense. It is a choice we sometimes have to make, but one that must be made rarely and always reluctantly.

We must remember that planning for peace is just as critical as planning for war. Iraq was not just a failure of conception, but a failure of execution. So when a conflict does arise that requires our involvement, we must try to understand that country's history, its politics, its ethnic and religious divisions before our troops ever set foot on its soil.

We must understand that setting up ballot boxes does not automatically create a democracy. Real freedom and real stability come from doing the hard work of helping to build a strong police force, and a legitimate government, and ensuring that people have food, and water, and electricity, and basic services. And we must be honest about how much of that we can do ourselves and how much must come from the people themselves.

And finally, we must remember that when we send our service men and women to war, we make sure we have given them the training they need, and the equipment that will keep them safe, and a mission they can accomplish. And when our troops come home, it is our most solemn responsibility to make sure they come home to the services, and the benefits, and the care they deserve.

The cause to defend our country and our interests around the world will never end. It will be one of our country's constant threads through the ages. It is our sacred trust to ensure that those moments, those times of great struggle, are the right ones. And when they are not, we must continue to try and end those conflicts for the sake of our country, our service men and women, and the ideals we hold dear.

For these reasons, I strongly support the provision in the supplemental bill that calls for the withdrawal of American combat troops by March 31, 2008, and I will oppose any efforts to strip that provision from the bill.

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