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President Obama promises to help unemployed veterans

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MINNEAPOLIS -- President Barack Obama told 10,000 military veterans this morning that the country needs to take care of them "as well as you have taken care of us."

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In a 34-minute speech, he outlined plans to help unemployed veterans find jobs.

Speaking to the national American Legion convention in Minneapolis, his second Minnesota visit in 15 days, Obama talked about the economy and continued to criticize Washington gridlock.

Looking ahead to Sunday's 10th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks, Obama said that "we will honor all of those who have kept us safe in those 10 difficult years."

Many joined the military before the Sept. 11 attacks, he said. "They enlisted in a time of peace, but they instantly transitioned to a war footing."

Obama praised military, saying it is the strongest ever, but added that more attention must be paid to service personnel returning home.

He promised to help unemployed veterans.

"After a decade of war, it's time to focus on nation building here at home," Obama said. "And our veterans, especially our 9-11 generation veterans, have the skills and the dedication to help lead the way. "

A new GI bill is helping many veterans and their families attend college, and in the fall that will expand to vocational training and apprenticeships. And Obama has ordered the federal government to hire more veterans.

To give new veterans a better chance at jobs, Obama said that he ordered the Defense Department to create a "reverse boot camp" to help them turn their military skills into skills for civilian jobs.

"I'm calling on every state to pass legislation that makes it easier for our veterans to get the credentials and the jobs for which they are so clearly qualified," he said.

Obama also challenged private business to hire 100,000 unemployed veterans.

Legion members had hoped Obama talked about veteran unemployment.

"The unemployment problem is the No. 1 concern for veterans," said Bob Davis, Goodhue County veterans' service officer.

Obama has promoted a plan to give tax breaks to businesses that hire veterans. He promised to unveil an overall jobs-creation plan next week.

Recent veterans - those serving after Sept. 11, 2001 - face a nearly 11 percent unemployment rate compared to an 8.5 percent rate for the general population, according to a congressional study released this spring.

Veterans in the group aged 18-24 face an even higher rate -- nearly 20 percent across the country and almost 23 percent in Minnesota, another study showed.

Including all veterans, however, the unemployment rate drops to 7.7 percent, lower than that of civilians.

Unemployment and Veteran's Affairs efficiency and accuracy were main points of discussion when Obama met with veterans in Cannon Falls after his town hall-style meeting on Aug. 15, Davis said.

While his first budget included the largest Veterans Administration increase in 30 years, the president said he will fight to protect veteran-related federal spending.

"I want to be absolutely clear: We cannot, and we must not, balance the budget on the backs of our veterans," the president said. "And as commander in chief, I won't allow it."

"With these historic investments, we're making dramatic improvements to veterans' health care," he added. "We're improving VA facilities to better serve our women veterans. And we're expanding outreach and care for our rural veterans, like those I met during my recent visit to Cannon Falls, including two proud Legionnaires: Tom Newman of Legion Post 620 in Hugo and Joseph Kidd, Post 164 in Stewartville. ... That was a good lunch, by the way."

Obama promised to work to break a backlog of veterans' disability claims, which is growing mostly due to agent orange-related claims.

The Legion invites the president, as commander in chief, to its gathering each year, said Dan Ludwig, a Red Wing resident and former American Legion National Commander.

Following Obama, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, both Democrats like Obama, were to speak to the convention. U.S. Rep. and GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann is scheduled to speak on Thursday.

The Legion will take action on hundreds of resolutions throughout the conference, which ends Thursday.

This year's convention, which kicked off Friday, is back in Minneapolis after 15 years, revisiting the city where the first meeting took place in 1919.

Don Davis of Forum Communication Co's Minnesota Capitol Bureau contributed to this story.

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