By ALEKSANDRA ROBINSON
WASHINGTON (Oct. 22, 2009) - President Obama thanked Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown on Thursday for his service in Iraq during the White House signing of a bill to ensure health care for veterans.
The Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009 will change the way health care for veterans is funded by requiring it be requested and approved one year in advance.
Brown was co-chairman of the Veterans Affairs Agency Review Team for the Obama-Biden transition. He is also the nation's highest-ranking elected official to have served in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"It's challenging, to say the least, to provide service to veterans ... when the budget is being held hostage on Capitol Hill," Brown said. "This was not an easy battle."
Over the past two decades, Obama said, the VA budget has frequently been late because Congress is rarely able to pass a budget before the start of the fiscal year, making it difficult for the VA to plan and manage care for sick and disabled veterans.
"At this very moment, the VA is operating without a budget, making it harder for VA medical centers and clinics to deliver the care our vets need. The hardworking folks at the VA know this," Obama said. "It's frustrating for them (the VA) and it's frustrating for our veterans."
Obama called the bill "common sense reform," and said the VA, "will no longer be held hostage to the annual budget battles in Washington.... The United States of America will keep our promise to our veterans."
The bill, Obama said, represents the largest percentage increase in the VA budget in more than 30 years.
"We're making real progress for our vets—like those with us today, including Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown," Obama said as the crowd cheered. "Thank you, Col. Brown."
After the signing, Brown said he was excited to have been invited to the bill signing and pleased to see Obama come through on a campaign promise to veterans.
"President Obama understands the challenges veterans face," Brown said. "As a veteran this means a lot to me."
The bill passed the House June 23 and was co-sponsored by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore. Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski was a co-sponsor for the bill in the Senate; it passed the Senate last week.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.