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Obama speaks of need for jobs and health care for vets, their families

In a speech at the Minneapolis Convention Center Tuesday, Pres. Barack Obama told 5,000 American Legion members of his commitment to providing services for the country’s soldiers, who bear “scars of war seen and unseen.”

“In a decade of war, they have borne an extraordinary burden, with more than two million of our service members deploying to the war zones,” Obama said. “Hundreds of thousands have deployed again and again, year after year—never before has our nation asked so much of our all-volunteer force.”

A policy of shorter deployments and draw-down of troops in Afghanistan has removed some soldiers from harm’s way, Obama said, although there’s a “moral obligation” to provide support for those who’ve already served, including extending the reach of health care, especially for rural veterans and women.

He referenced the tough job market for returning soldiers. Minnesota has one of the nation’s worst unemployment rates for veterans who’ve served since Sept. 11, according to a recent congressional report. Obama vowed to create 100,000 jobs for veterans, through the creation of the Returning Heroes and Wounded Warrior Tax Credits for companies that hire veterans.

“For the sake of our veterans, for the sake of our economy, we need these veterans working and contributing and creating the new jobs and industries that will keep America competitive in the 21st century,” Obama said.

Obama said mental health care was also a priority for his administration — long waits for mental health treatments have drawn criticism.

“The days when depression, PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder] were stigmatized must end. That’s why I made the decision to start sending condolence letters to the families of service members who take their lives while deployed in a combat zone,” Obama said. “These American patriots did not die because they were weak — they were warriors, they deserve our respect — every man and woman in uniform, every veteran, needs to know that your nation will be there to help you stay strong.”

U.S. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison also spoke Tuesday. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann is scheduled to speak to the convention Thursday.

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