Obama Emphasizes Veterans Support as War Recedes

President Barack Obama used a stop at Fort Bliss, Texas, today to remind voters that he kept his vow to end the war in Iraq and wind down the conflict in Afghanistan, while promising veterans they won’t be forgotten.

Even though the trip was listed as official business rather than a campaign event, Obama’s remarks directly addressed some of the criticisms by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, from national security to the economy.

“If you hear anyone trying to say that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, don’t you believe it,” Obama said. “Around the world, there is a new attitude toward America, new confidence in our leadership. When people are asked, which country do you admire most, one nation always comes out on top: the United States of America.”

Obama made the same trip on Aug. 31, 2010, followed by an address to the nation from the White House that evening in which he declared an end to the U.S. combat role in Iraq. The president declared an end to the war 16 months later in a speech to troops at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The U.S. flag was lowered over Baghdad the next day.

“Because of your determination to succeed you turned back an insurgency,” told the soldiers at Fort Bliss. “You helped pull Iraq back from the abyss.”

Economic Concerns

Romney, who accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for president yesterday in Tampa, Florida, tied Obama’s handling of the economy to the concerns of veterans, in remarks earlier this week.

“They’ve served their country. They want to get back to work,” Romney told the American Legion in a speech Aug. 29 in Indianapolis. “This president’s greatest failure is that he’s not delivered those jobs.”

Obama, who never mentioned the election or Romney in his address, said his policies are focused on reviving the economy with special attention given to finding jobs for veterans.

“After fighting for America, you shouldn’t have to fight for a job in America,” he said.

Obama will be returning to campaigning tomorrow with a trip to the swing states of Iowa, Colorado, Ohio and Virginia before heading to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, next week.

He also will stop in Louisiana on Sept. 3 to assess damage and relief efforts following Hurricane Isaac. Romney was in Louisiana today.

Soldiers’ Meeting

Before delivering remarks to about 5,000 soldiers in an aircraft hangar at Fort Bliss, Obama met privately with 13 soldiers and some of their spouses for a discussion about support services.

In conjunction with the visit, Obama today issued an executive order directing federal agencies to expand suicide- prevention programs and meet demand for mental health and substance abuse treatment services for veterans and their families.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is ordered to hire 800 counselors to empower veterans to support other veterans, while the department adds 1,600 mental health professionals by June 2013, the executive order said.

The order directs the Defense Department to establish a suicide-prevention program, and orders the VA to increase the veteran crisis line capacity by 50 percent by Dec. 31 and link a troubled veteran to a mental health professional within 24 hours.

Iraq Veterans

More than 2 million soldiers have served in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001. Tours have been of “unprecedented duration and frequency,” the White House said in a statement, making expanded services necessary.

Romney, in Indianapolis, criticized the Obama administration for a backlog of disability claims and proposed defense cuts that could increase unemployment.

Soldiers based at Fort Bliss, home of the 1st Armored Division, were part of the March 2003 invasion of Iraq and were among the last to serve in combat roles. At the peak of the conflict, about 170,000 U.S. troops were stationed in Iraq. More than 4,400 U.S. soldiers were killed and almost 32,000 were wounded, Pentagon figures show.

In his acceptance speech in Tampa last night, Romney made no mention of the war in Afghanistan, which is still being fought. Obama has used the issue to attack his rival. In a campaign speech at University of Virginia in Charlottesville Aug. 29, Obama said Romney thought ending the war in Iraq “was tragic” and that the Republican presidential nominee “doesn’t have a plan” to bring troops home from Afghanistan.

To contact the reporters on this story: Roger Runningen in Fort Bliss at rrunningen@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steve Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net

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