Obama says Veterans Affairs agency still needs improving

Obama says Veterans Affairs agency still needs improving

© Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - A little more than a year after the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' secretary stepped down over reports the agency was offering inadequate health care, President Barack Obama told veterans on Tuesday his administration had more work to do for them.

"I want you to know I'm still not satisfied. Bob's still not satisfied. We're not going to let up," Obama said, referring to the agency's current secretary Robert McDonald at the 116th annual conference of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Pittsburgh.

The group was the first major veterans organization to call for an investigation into reports last year that the federal agency was hiding reports of veterans' long wait times for care.

Obama said veterans still needed better mental health care and should not have to drive long distances for care.

Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, said in a statement that problems at the VA have become worse over the past year and called on Obama to do more to change the culture at the agency.

Obama took jabs at Republican lawmakers for keeping sequestration-level spending caps on the budget, which Obama said cuts into veterans programs, and said Congress needs to approve a request for flexibility in the Veterans Affairs budget by the end of the month.

The conference also allowed Obama another chance to pitch the nuclear deal the United States and world powers reached with Iran last week.

Obama called the deal a “smarter, more responsible” alternative to putting American “lives on the line” in another military conflict.

“Some of the same politicians and pundits that are so quick to reject the possibility of a diplomatic solution to Iran's nuclear program are the same folks who were so quick to go to war in Iraq and said it would take a few months,” Obama said.

“We know the consequences of that choice, and what it cost us in blood and treasure,” he said.

The White House has come under pressure for not negotiating the release of Americans held in Iran as a condition for the nuclear deal.

In his address to veterans, Obama called on Iran to release the Americans and called them each by name, including Amir Hekmati, a former sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps.

He also paid tribute to five service members killed at two military facilities in Chattanooga, Tennessee on Thursday.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards; Editing by Andrew Hay and Christian Plumb)