First lady: Vets face 'unacceptable' job barriers
First lady Michelle Obama speaks at the Unite For Veterans Summit in Los Angeles on Wednesday, July 16, 2014. Her keynote address highlighted the importance of assistance for veterans as they leave military service.
LOS ANGELES — The difficulties that military veterans face securing jobs are "unacceptable" and the notion of a veteran mired in homelessness should "horrify all of us," Michelle Obama said Wednesday in Los Angeles.
The first lady spoke to the crowd of 900 business, government and community leaders gathered for the United Way's Unite for Veterans Summit, which focused on ending homelessness and improving job prospects for military veterans.
"After everything they have done for us, the idea that any of our veterans are spending months or even years struggling to find a job is unacceptable," she said.
The first lady also said that ongoing work in Los Angeles at the local, state and federal level was essential to the administration's recently announced goal of eliminating veteran homelessness by the end of 2015.
Of the 58,000 homeless veterans in the U.S., more than 6,000 reside in the county of Los Angeles, according to estimates from the Department of Housing and Urban Development's annual homeless count.
The first lady cautioned that a "tiny percentage" of veterans end up on the streets, but linked homelessness to the overall need for employment and housing assistance to those returning to civilian life.
"With our war in Iraq over and our war in Afghanistan drawing to a close, thousands of men and women who risked their lives for our country are transitioning back home" she said. "We cannot make the same mistakes with this generation that we made in the past."
The first lady is on a two-day swing through Los Angeles that includes a political fundraiser at the home of HBO executive Michael Lombardo and a Wednesday luncheon honoring music educators at the Grammy Museum.
The first lady's comments come the same day that a top federal official acknowledged scandals at the Veterans Affairs Department undermined trust in the agency that provides veterans with health care.
Reports of treatment delays and slow appointment scheduling — and the falsified records to cover up issues — have eroded confidence in the agency, Acting Veterans Affairs Department Secretary Sloan Gibson told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday.
Gibson took over as acting secretary in May after uproar over mismanagement prompted VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign.
The first lady avoided addressing the problems uncovered at the VA, but singled out the VA's grants that fund local nonprofits' housing and assistance programs.
Issues faced by veterans and military families have remained one of the first lady's top priorities.
More than 500,000 veterans and their spouses have found jobs under Joining Forces, the employment program launched by the first lady and Dr. Jill Biden, Obama announced in April.