By Steve B. Brooks
Veterans employment is a priority of President Barack Obama, American Legion National Commander Fang A. Wong said after an Oval Office meeting with the president Tuesday afternoon.
During the meeting, which included American Legion National Adjutant Daniel S. Wheeler, the national commander said the pair also discussed the Department of Veterans Affairs budget and how defense cuts will affect military retirement pay and medical benefits.
“He seems to be very on top of the employment issue and very concerned about it,” Wong said. “We expressed satisfaction with our MOU (memorandum of understanding) signing today with the Department of Agriculture (www.legion.org/washingtonconference/161975/usda-legion-team-vet-hiring-e...) and expressed hope that other federal agencies would follow suit and join in the effort to hire veterans.”
Wong said he shared with Obama concerns of servicemembers the national commander spoke with during a 2011 visit to Afghanistan: increases in TRICARE co-pay, changes to the military retirement system and reductions in the Department of Defense budget.
“The president said that in this economy, some cuts are unavoidable,” Wong said. “But he said the military retirement plan will stay as it is right now. There is a commission looking at it now, and the earliest any decision would be made would be in two years. If a change is needed, he said he would consult with the VSOs to get their input.
“I shared with him that The American Legion has strongly opposed increases in TRICARE co-pays, as well as increases in pharmaceutical co-pays, for years. We discussed the importance of ensuring that we do not increase the burden on veterans who have earned the right to TRICARE. Additionally, no increase in TRICARE should occur when there is not also a increase in the cost-of-living adjustment.” (quoted incorrectly earlier; please note clarification at bottom of page)
Wong also said Obama pledged that there would be no VA budget cuts included in across-the-board federal budget cuts. “He said, ‘As long as I am president, I will protect VA,’” Wong said.