Monday, August 15, 2011

Rural Bus Tour: President Obama Has Lunch With Post 9/11 Veterans At Minnesota's Old Market Deli

Talking turkey about rural veterans' issues over a turkey sandwich...

After his first rural town hall meeting in Minnesota today, President Obama had a previously unannounced lunch at the Old Market Deli in Cannon Falls' historic downtown. He was joined by five post-9/11 veterans, all from Minnesota, representing the Army, Navy, and National Guard. The lunch, according to the White House, was "an opportunity for the President to hear directly from rural veterans," because "a disproportionate share of post-9/11 vets are from rural America" (that's about 6.1 million). The new White House Rural Council Report, "Jobs And Economic Security For Rural America" has a whole section devoted to veterans in rural America. (Above: The President with his lunch companions)

As he entered shortly before 1:30 PM, the President, tieless, his shirtsleeves rolled up, greeted delighted diners and deli staff. He shook hands, asked for names, posed for photos.

“We’ll get a picture with the whole crew," the President promised one staffer.

After ordering his turkey sandwich (wheat bread, mayo, lettuce and tomato) at the counter, the President sat and dined with his guests at a table situated among the other diners in the brightly painted eatery that's known for its hand-made ice cream. The President's guests were Henry B. Mathia of Woodbury and Joseph D. Kidd of Stewartville, both Navy vets; Scott J. Peer of Cannon Falls and Thomas B. Newman of Hugo, both Army National Guard Vets; and Timothy K. Loney of St. Paul, an Army Veteran.

The lunch was "an opportunity for the President to hear directly from rural veterans about their experiences and discuss the steps his administration has taken, including the recently announced Veterans Employment Initiative, to ensure all of America’s veterans have the support they need and deserve when they leave the military," the White House said. Rural vets comprise about 39% of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans enrolled in the VA Health Care System, and Administration efforts to improve rural health care is another component of the Report. (Above: The President talks with fellow diners)

Sidewalk meet n' greet...

After lunch, outside on the sunny pavement, the President worked a line of about two dozen handpicked guests, including the owner of Dudley's Pizza, located across the street from the deli. He turned down her offer of a slice, but smiled for a photo and said, "they are always trying to fatten me up," patting his belly.

When a diminutive mother and son sidled up for a photo, the President cracked, "I could lift both of you up!"

Moments later, a middle-aged woman approached Mr. Obama to say that her son had just returned from Afghanistan. The President embraced her, asking, "is he okay?"

The woman said her son was fine and began to tear up when Obama hugged her again.

"We are so grateful," he said.

The President climbed aboard his shiny black armored bus and headed for Decorah, Iowa after lunch, for the second town hall of the day, at Seed Savers Exchange. (Above: Another view of lunch)

Info: Old Market Deli is at 331 Mill Street West, Cannon Falls, MN 55009-2032. Phone: (507) 263-8888.

UPDATE, Aug. 17: NPR questions the statistics the White House is using for percentage of military members who come from rural areas, and says these are inflated.

White House background released for the lunch:

Background on Administration Policies to Support Rural Veterans and Military Families

Rural Americans are an integral part of our military. Although rural residents account for 17% of the U.S. population, they make up 44% of the men and women who serve in uniform. In fact, approximately 6.1 million veterans currently live in rural communities. Their immeasurable sacrifices have made our borders safer and our country stronger.

Despite their contributions, many of our veterans face enormous economic challenges. The unemployment rate as of July 2011 among post-September 11 veterans is 12.4%. Many of these unemployed veterans need educational training and job certification to successfully transition back into the civilian workforce. To fully honor the service of the men and women in uniform, this Administration has worked hard to make sure our veterans receive the medical care, training, and employment support they deserve in the rural communities where they live.

Specifically, the President's Veterans Employment Initiative has hired over 100,000 veterans in the federal government in the past year and a half. Moreover, under the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) has provided education benefits to over 215,000 veteran students in rural areas and 3,600 veteran students in highly rural areas. Through the Office of Rural Health, the VA has also targeted $250 million annually to improve access and quality of care to rural veterans. Further, VA's home loan guaranty program has helped over 300,000 rural veterans and service members purchase a home or refinance an existing mortgage. And First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden have led Joining Forces, the national initiative to mobilize all sectors of society to provide our service members and their families with the jobs and economic opportunities they deserve.

Furthermore, on August 5th, 2011, the President announced a sweeping initiative to boost veterans hiring and ensure that the men and women in uniform leave service with the credentials and training they need in today's civilian workforce. The proposal includes the Returning Heroes Tax Credit, which would provide strong incentives for firms to hire unemployed veterans, and the Wounded Warriors Tax Credit, which would increase incentives to hire unemployed veterans with service connected disabilities. The President also challenged the private sector to hire or train 100,000 veterans by the end of 2013, and a large number of companies have already stepped up to meet that challenge. Collectively, these efforts will help create jobs and improve economic outcomes for our veterans, and fulfill the promise we have made to the millions of men and women who have bravely served our country.


*Getty photos

No comments:

Post a Comment