Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Executive Coach Leadership

Editor's Note: The author is a former servicemember.

August 5, 2009 (San Dimas, CA) American Heroes Press announced that the co-author of Leadership: Texas Hold ‘em Style, Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster, LAPD (ret.) will be a guest on the internet-based radio program Leading the Way to Success with Executive Coach Judy Nelson.

Date: August 8, 2009
Time: 9:30 AM PACIFIC
Listen Live:

Leading the Way to Success is “an eclectic weekly interview show focused on "How People and Organizations Tick." Our experts on subjects such as psychology, medicine, management and leadership, psychiatry and parenthood will bring their thoughtful and sometimes controversial opinions to the air.” Judy Nelson, an
Executive Coach with 30 years experience as a CEO, say of the program, “Join me every week as I explore with my ordinary and extraordinary guests how they became leaders. To learn why you can't afford NOT to have a Coach, call me at 877.yesJudy.”

Raymond E. Foster was a sworn member of the Los Angeles Police Department for 24 years. He retired in 2003 at the rank of Lieutenant. He holds a bachelor’s from the Union Institute and University in
Criminal Justice Management and a Master’s Degree in Public Financial Management from California State University, Fullerton. He has completed his doctoral studies in business research. Raymond is a graduate of the West Point Leadership program and has attended law enforcement, technology and leadership programs such as the National Institute for Justice, Technology Institute, Washington, DC.

Raymond has been a part-time lecturer at California State University, Fullerton and is currently a faculty advisor and chair of the
Criminal Justice Program at the Union Institute and University. He has experience teaching upper division courses in law enforcement, public policy, technology and leadership. Raymond is an experienced author who has published numerous articles in a wide range of venues including magazines such as Government Technology, Mobile Government, Airborne Law Enforcement Magazine, and Police One. He has appeared on the History Channel and radio programs in the United States and Europe as subject matter expert in technological applications in law enforcement.

His first book,
Police Technology is used in over 100 colleges and universities nationwide. He latest book, Leadership: Texas Hold ‘em Style has been adopted by several universities for course work in leadership; by several civil service organizations and required reading for promotion; and, has been well received in the wider market.

Using poker as analogy for
leadership, Captain Andrew Harvey, CPD (ret.), Ed.D. and Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster, LAPD (ret.), MPA found the right mix of practical experience and academic credentials to write a definitive book for leaders. Working together, Harvey and Foster have written Leadership: Texas Hold em Style. Most often leaders find they are given a set of resources people, equipment, funds, experience and a mission. As Foster noted, "You're dealt a certain hand. How you play that hand as a leader determines your success."

More than a book: A fun and entertaining journey through
leadership that includes an interactive website to supplement knowledge gained from the book.
Proven and Tested: Not an academic approach to
leadership, but rather a road-tested guide that has been developed through 50-years of author experience.
High Impact: Through the use of perspective, reflection, and knowledge, provides information that turns
leadership potential into leadership practice.
Ease of Application: Theory is reinforced with real-life experience, which results in accessible and practical tools leaders can put to use immediately.
High Road Approach: Personal character and ethical beliefs are woven into each leadership approach, so leaders do the right thing for the right reasons.
Uses Game of Poker: Rather than a dry approach that is all fact and no flavor, the game of poker is used as a lens through which to view
leadership concepts.

Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster, LAPD (ret)

Female Soldiers Continue Footprint in Army Aviation

American Forces Press Service

Aug. 5, 2009 - Women have actively supported the U.S. military since the Revolutionary War. By providing medical care to wounded soldiers and support to their militia men, women introduced themselves as an asset to protecting the nation. Today, female soldiers are offered the same jobs as male soldiers, with the exception of combat-arms careers such as infantry, armory and artillery.

Women, however, continue to deploy in support of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom on the ground and in the air as truck drivers, military police, field medics and Army aviation aircrew members.

Amelia Earhart and other female aviators paved the way for women in the sky in the 1920s, but it wasn't until the 1970s that female pilots were considered for U.S. military aviation programs. But serving their country from the cockpit of fixed-wing or rotary-wing combat aircraft still was not an option for women.

In 1993, then-Defense Secretary Les Aspin opened combat presence from the aircraft cockpit to women, including female enlisted aircrew members.

In southern Afghanistan, women serve on aircrews that provide medical evacuation throughout the combat zone. Company C, 3rd Battalion, 82nd Aviation Regiment, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, includes men and women among its aviators and medical specialists.

"I can't think of a better job I'd rather be doing," said Army Chief Warrant Officer Monica Narhi, a medevac pilot. "What motivates me is the significance and direct purpose in my job every day; this is a great mission."

Narhi, a 10-year Army pilot, said she has wanted to be a medevac pilot since she was a girl. A former Army aviation officer and a veteran of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, Narhi retired her commission as a captain, but continued her military career. She returned to Army aviation as a warrant officer to continue pursuing her dream to be a pilot.

In the late 1980s, the Army responded to the prohibition of women being involved in combat roles -- such as directly engaging the enemy with crew-served weapons, which excluded female helicopter pilots from the combat zone -- by using helicopters for transportation and medical evacuation.

Army Capt. Jennie Richey, a medevac pilot, commands of the battalion's Company D. Her mission is to ensure the maintenance and operability of CH-47F Chinook helicopters. "I don't change the standards set for my soldiers or see them different from each other," Richey said. "It doesn't matter if they are male or female; they all work hard to accomplish their missions.

"I am who I am, and I won't change how I command because I'm a female," Richey continued. "And as a pilot and member of an aircrew, we see each other as just that -- a crew; there is no difference."

Army Sgt. Christine Chaney, a flight medic with Company C, served in the Army for more than five years. Before joining the company, she was an emergency room nurse in Germany.

"The team provides group support to each other while on missions," Chaney said. "It doesn't matter if it's a female medic or a male medic; what matters are patients receiving immediate care."

In the combat zone, medevac crews treat not only casualties of homemade bombs and gunshot wounds, but also servicemembers suffering from heat stroke or injured in accidents.

"The hardest part about being a flight medic is treating injured children," Chaney said. "My priority is treating the patient; their life is in our hands."

Chaney said she hopes to pursue her medical degree and serve in the Army as a physician's assistant or doctor.

Many women like Chaney have served in the military as medical specialists. Evacuation nurses have aided in the rescue of casualties for more than 60 years.

Army Lt. Elsie S. Ott, an air evacuation nurse in the 1940s, was the first woman to receive the Air Medal for her performance in support of the air evacuation mission. The Air Medal is awarded to crew members for their performance during an aviation mission in a hostile environment.

Along with flight medics and pilots, Army aviation also employs crew chiefs to assist in the maintenance and security of the aircraft. Army Spc. Nicole Hyde, a crew chief assigned to Company C, is responsible for helicopters' serviceability, making sure the aircraft is ready for launch when a medevac mission is called in.

"After I've made sure the aircraft is ready, ... communication calls, engines are operational and equipment is secure, my focus is to assist the pilots and flight medic on board," she said.

Women now make up 15 percent of the Army, and working side by side with their male counterparts, have expanded their footprint in the U.S. military.

(From an 82ND Combat Aviation Brigade news release.)


Souza Construction, Inc.*, Farmersville, Calif., (N62473-09-D-1652); Bilbro Construction Co., Inc.*, San Diego, Calif., (N62473-09-D-1653); Allen Engineering Contractor, Inc.*, San Bernardino, Calif., (N62473-09-D-1654); K.O.O. Construction, Inc.*, West Sacramento, Calif., (N62473-09-D-1655); RMA Land Construction, Inc.*, Brea, Calif., (N62473-09-D-1656); I.E.-Pacific, Inc.*, San Diego, Calif., (N62473-09-D-1657); A&D GC Inc.*, Santee, Calif., (N62473-09-D-1658); and San Juan Construction, Inc.*, Montrose, Colo., (N62473-09-D-1659), are each being awarded a firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity multiple award construction contract small business set-aside for new construction and renovation of general building construction at various locations within the NAVFAC Southwest area of responsibility. The work to be performed provides for the design, new construction, renovation and repair for industrial, commercial type and institutional buildings, systems and infrastructure. The work may include civil, structural, mechanical, electrical, and communication systems and will include supervision, equipment, materials, and labor, to provide complete and usable facilities. The maximum dollar value for all eight contracts combined is $750,000,000. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. Work will be performed at various federal sites within the NAVFAC Southwest AOR including but not limited to Calif., (83 percent), Ariz., (12 percent), Nev., (2 percent), Utah, (1 percent), Colo., (1 percent), and N.M., (1 percent), and work is expected to be completed July 2014. This contract was competitively procured via the Navy Electronic Commerce Online website, with 46 proposals received. These eight contractors may compete for task orders under the terms and conditions of the awarded contract. The Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Southwest, San Diego, Calif., is the contracting activity.

General Dynamics, Electric Boat Corp., Groton, Conn., is being awarded a $65,200,000 cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for installation of a hull patch, bridge access trunk, sail and port retractable bow plane, as well as perform mandatory corrective maintenance actions required for the repair and restoration of USS Hartford (SSN 768). Work will be performed in Groton, Conn., (90 percent) and Quonset, R.I., (10 percent), and is expected to be completed by September 2010. Contract funds in the amount of $31,950,000 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was not competitively procured. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity (N00024-09-C-4413).

McDonnell Douglas Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of The Boeing Co., St. Louis, Mo., is being awarded a $15,999,645 modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract (N00019-04-C-0014). This modification provides for the procurement of additional ancillary mission equipment for the F/A-18 E/F and E/A-18G aircraft. Work will be performed in El Segundo, Calif., (96 percent); and Irving, Calif., (4 percent), and is expected to be completed in March 2012. Contract funds in the amount of $3,502,299 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity.

Basic Contracting Services, Inc.*, Artesia, N.M., is being awarded a maximum $15,297,613 firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity services contract for armed security guard services including harbor patrol services for Naval Magazine Indian Island. The work to be performed provides for armed entry control point security, fixed post security, roving land patrols, and harbor patrols. Work will be performed at Port Hadlock, Wash., and is expected to be completed by September 2014. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via the Navy Electronic Commerce Online website,with 10 proposals received. The Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Northwest, Silverdale, Wash., is the contracting activity (N44255-09-D-5000).

K2 Solutions, Inc.*, Southern Pines, N.C., is being awarded an $8,733,779 firm-fixed price contract for the purchase of 112 trained and certified Improvised Explosive Device Detector Dogs (IDD). This requirement also involves procuring and maintaining a pool of 247 IDDs; training for the selected IDDs; and five weeks of training of IDD handlers. The contract will also provide for kenneling of the IDDs, to include feeding and medical care of IDDs during the period of performance; team integration training for four weeks at a training venue designated by the United States Marine Corps, currently Twenty-nine Palms, Calif.; and contractor field support services to assist the USMC after deployment. This contract will include an option for the procurement of replacement IDDs, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $8,763,779. The work will be performed in Southern Pines, N.C., and Twenty-Nine Palms, Calif., and work is expected to be completed Aug. 4, 2010. Contract funds in the amount of $8,733,779 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via a request for proposals, with three proposals solicited and three offers received. The USMC, Regional Contracting Office, National Capitol Region, Quantico, Va., is the contracting activity (M00264-09-C-0028).

Northrop Grumman Guidance and Electronics Co., Woodland Hills, Calif., is being awarded an $8,004,225 indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity, cost-plus-fixed fee contract for engineering and technical services in support of the Fiber Optic Conformal Acoustic Velocity Sensor (FOCAVES). Efforts will include engineering and technical support of the phase 7 development of the FOCAVES system. The purpose of phase 7 is to build a working model for testing, and create a TDM receiver for interrogation of the optical sensors. Work will be performed in Woodland Hills, Calif., and is expected to completed by August 2014. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The contract was not competitively procured. The Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division, Newport, R.I., is the contracting activity (N66604-09-D-0053).

Obama: VA Outreach Aims at Seamless Transition

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Aug. 5, 2009 - The days of the Department of Veterans Affairs waiting passively for veterans leaving the military to come seeking benefits and services are over, President Barack Obama told military reporters yesterday. Today's VA is reaching out, while servicemembers are still in uniform, to make sure they know what their benefits are and what services are available to them, he said during a White House roundtable interview.

Obama called this "active outreach" an important first step in ensuring servicemembers don't "fall through the cracks" as they transition from the Defense Department to VA systems.

"We have been placing a lot more emphasis on outreach, because although there are hundreds of thousands of veterans who are using our services, we know that there are hundreds of thousands more who may not know that benefits are available," he said.

Obama said he wants to ensure that "every single veteran -- not just our active forces, but also the National Guard and reservists -- are aware of the benefits that are available to them."

"Guiding them through that process, we think, is extraordinarily important," he said.

That's particularly true in the cases of wounded warriors, he said, whose transitions are being eased by VA's additional claims adjusters and technological improvements to streamline the application process.

"What we're trying to do is just break down the hurdles that exist between veterans and the VA," he said.

Obama called the new joint virtual lifetime electronic record one of the longer-term answers to promoting a more seamless transition process. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates proposed the measure to improve care and services to transitioning veterans by smoothing the flow of medical records between the two departments.

"When a member of the armed services separates from the military, he or she will no longer have to walk paperwork from a [military] duty station to a local VA health center," Obama explained as he announced the initiative in April.

The new electronic record, which includes administrative as well as medical records, will reduce lost hard-copy files and delays in getting benefits processed, the president said. It also provides a framework to ensure health-care providers have all the information they need to deliver high-quality health care, while reducing medical errors, officials noted.

Shinseki told reporters yesterday the new record represents a big step forward that will require a merger of the electronic records within the two departments.

Noting that he lived under the Defense Department's system for many years when he served in uniform, the retired Army general said he's "very proud" of the VA's electronic records system. "We have to get them to talk, or to come together," he said. "That's what this is about."

The full impact of an integrated system will take some time to realize, Shinseki said.

"Trying to do the seamless transition when a youngster takes off a uniform today and is inducted into the Veterans Department tomorrow -- nearly impossible," he said. "And so what we've agreed to do is create a system where a youngster takes the oath of office today, and while he or she is serving, we begin the process of creating an electronic record in [the Defense Department] that is mirrored in VA."

This will go a long way toward plugging any gaps that inadvertently occur during the transition process, he said.

"However long they serve -- whether it's two years or 10 years -- when they take the uniform off, a seamless transition has already occurred," Shinseki said. "They're a known quantity. We know where they've been. We know what injuries [they'd had], what operations they've been on."

President, VA Chief Cite Post-traumatic Stress as Priority

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Aug. 5, 2009 - Citing the direct correlation between military deployments and post-traumatic stress disorder, President Barack Obama said he's hopeful that increasing the size of the force will help to reduce incidents of stress. Obama joined Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki yesterday to discuss a broad range of veterans issues, including his commitment to tackling the causes behind PTSD and providing resources to help those experiencing it.

"There is a direct connection between the problems of PTSD and the pace of military operations," Obama told military reporters during a roundtable interview at the White House.

"As we are phasing down our operations in Iraq, we're going to see fewer PTSD cases coming out of Iraq," he said. "As we're seeing increased velocity of operations in Afghanistan, that's going to put more strain on the military personnel who are located there."

Faced with that hard reality -- one he said he takes to heart as he deploys troops in the first place -- Obama said he wants to reduce the incidents of PTSD. And one of the best ways to do that, he said, is "to reduce the amount of time in theater without a break."

Obama noted steps he's taken to increase the size of the military, particularly the Army and Marine Corps, which have been most heavily stressed with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

He also gave Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates authority to advance the Army's growth to end its "stop-loss" policy more quickly. The unpopular policy keeps some soldiers in uniform beyond the terms of their enlistment contracts.

The president also approved Gates' recommendation to temporarily boost the Army's active force by 22,000 members, a move expected to begin making an impact in January.

"All those things are going to make a difference in reducing stress, because what you've seen is that the incidents of post-traumatic stress disorder increase with each deployment," the president said.

But Obama called that just the first step in addressing the issue. Identifying people with symptoms of PTSD and getting them help also are key to a comprehensive approach.

"Step No. 2 is making sure that we are doing the screening that's necessary so that problems don't fester, and eliminating the stigma that may have historically existed when somebody is showing symptoms of PTSD -- particularly if they're still in theater, or still on active duty," he said.

The military has been working hard to change that paradigm, he noted. "I think that you've seen steps both within all the armed forces to talk about these issues, encourage people to avail themselves of services while they're in theater, but also when they get home," he said.

The president recognized "much more aggressive, systemic screening" VA conducts for every veteran entering its system.

The third step in addressing PTSD is to provide mental health services to those who need them.

Obama said his fiscal 2010 budget, which includes the largest VA funding increase in 30 years, will help to confront PTSD and traumatic brain injuries in a "more robust way."

"Throwing money at the problem by itself is not enough," he conceded. But, he added, money does help by funding more counselors, mental health specialists and treatment facilities. "We're hiring mental health providers," Shinseki pointed out. "We're up to 18,000 in the VA today."

Shinseki also noted the success of VA's national suicide hotline, staffed by mental health professionals. In the year since it went operational, the hotline -- 1-800-273-TALK (8255) -- has received about 150,000 calls.

But the biggest measure of the hotline's effectiveness, Shinseki said, are the 3,200 "online interventions" in which mental health professionals were able to help stop suicides "in the process."

"Because you have a mental health professional recognizing some cues, with an electronic health record -- you have a name, you know a location -- you can begin to vector, whether it's police or local authorities, to help," Shinseki said.

Among those 3,200 interventions, one involved a suicide in process in Baghdad, he said. A mother who was online with her troubled son called the hotline. That sparked a chain of events that led to getting notification to the servicemember's unit commander, who stepped in to help.

More money will fund more research into PTSD to get a better understanding of its causes, Shinseki said. "We know a lot about PTSD, but we don't know enough," he said.

Why, for example, are two people who have had the same experience affected differently? "There's something here that we don't understand," Shinseki said. "Is it personal makeup, resilience, how kids were raised, or whatever? But unlocking that door, for both [the Defense Department] and VA, will be important because it will help us understand how we can teach resilience."

Even with more understanding and treatment options for PTSD, Shinseki acknowledged another challenge: getting people to acknowledge they need help in the first place.

Mandatory screenings will help, he said. In addition, VA is moving its mental health care into the primary care areas of its hospitals. "We're trying to attack that stigma of, 'I'm going to mental health,' as opposed to 'I'm going to the hospital,' where it's not so visible," Shinseki said.

Another challenge is getting veterans, particularly younger ones who think they can deal with the problem themselves, to reach out for help. "Some of that is having to break through ... the invincibility of youth, convincing them that they have an issue [and that] we can help," he said.

"We know if we get them into treatment, they get better," he said. "We also know [that] if we don't get them into treatment, it doesn't get better, and most often it becomes debilitating."

Shinseki pointed to 131,000 homeless veterans, many of whom began their downward spiral with undetected and untreated PTSD or other mental health problems.

As VA works with other agencies to address the homeless veteran problem, he said, it wants to resolve issues that can help the newest veterans from facing the same plight in the future.

Obama said he's seen a change in attitudes about PTSD since the Vietnam era. "And I think both [the Defense Department] and VA take the issue of PTSD very seriously," he said.

"I'm confident that we're moving in the right direction," he said. "We're putting resources behind it. We're putting time and energy behind it. I'm focused on it personally. But it's going to take some time."

Face of Defense: NCO Follows in Grandfather's Footsteps

By Thad Moyseowicz
Special to American Forces Press Service

Aug. 5, 2009 - The Atomium monument is an iconic landmark of Brussels. Made in the shape of an iron crystal's unit cell, it was built as a centerpiece for the 1958 Brussels World's Fair, and has remained standing long after the fair's closing. Army Staff Sgt. Jonathan James, installation provost sergeant for U.S Army Garrison Brussels, first became conscious of the Atomium as a child in Kelso, Wash.

"My grandfather was a career soldier," James said, "and he had this funny paperweight shaped like an atom. I once asked him what it was, and he explained to me that it was part of the Brussels World's Fair, and that he and grandma had seen it when they went to the fair in 1958 from Germany.

"I never dreamed that I'd someday not only see the Atomium," he said, "but that I'd live in Brussels, too."

James credits his grandfather with having inspired his interest in the Army. He enlisted following graduation from high school in 2004, and went through basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

He was drawn to the Military Police Corps after completing a high school law enforcement project with the Washington State Highway Patrol, he said, adding that he figured MP training would give him entry to future civilian employment in law enforcement.

James initially was assigned to the 92nd MP Company in Baumholder, Germany, where his grandfather was stationed, and deployed with his unit to Afghanistan for a year as a gunner. The experience, he said, was incredibly maturing. "I went to Afghanistan straight out of mom's house," he recalled, "and came out transformed."

The Afghanistan experience also cooled his interest in a civilian career.

"I found I really enjoyed the company of soldiers, the sense of mission and pride, the camaraderie," he said. "I especially enjoyed working as a team member."

After his return to Baumholder, James found he was up for orders. He also found himself increasingly involved with his high school sweetheart, Natalie.

"I proposed to Natalie in Paris," he said with a chuckle, "because I figured it would be hard for her to say no. She accepted, we were married, and my first sergeant, who knew I wanted some time to establish my family, talked me into volunteering for orders to Brussels."

James said the Brussels assignment has done everything he expected and more.

"Natalie and I had our first child here," he explained. "Owen is now 2, and we're now expecting our second child in January. We definitely are established as a family now."

Professionally, the assignment has seen James rocket in rank from specialist to staff sergeant. He has occupied every position available for an enlisted MP at the garrison, from patrolman to desk sergeant to installation provost sergeant.

"Sergeant James is, simply stated, a spectacular NCO," said his boss, Army Capt. Antonio Espinal, director of emergency services. "He's transformed what was, frankly, an underachieving MP station for the better in every measurable way. And he's done it through sound, hard-nosed leadership and attention to detail."

Army Sgt. Ryan Cody, the garrison desk sergeant, called James "the best NCO I've ever worked for in the Army."

"He sets very high standards, and we know we have to aim high to reach those standards," he said. "Most important, he really cares about each of us, both on the job and off duty. It's not show with him; he really cares."

James said he prefers to remain modest, even in the face of such high praise. "I find it extremely rewarding being able to positively affect my peers, to influence the lives of larger groups," he said, "but I don't like to talk about it."

James credits two people with his accomplishments: his wife and his drill instructor.

"I would not be where I am without my wife, Natalie," he said. "There were times when I was preparing for boards when she knew the material I was going to be boarded on better than I did. I'd come home tired, and she'd tell me we were going to start reviewing the material.

"She loves the Army," he added, "and has told me she wants to go back to school when we go back to the U.S. to study physical therapy -- so she can take care of wounded soldiers."

James said he continues to draw inspiration from his basic training drill instructor. "I'll never forget him," he said. "He really set me on the path to success in the Army."

The James family has orders to report to Fort Leonard Wood in October. James' request for drill instructor duty will bring him full circle to where he started his career. "This is something I really want to do," he said. "The circle keeps getting bigger. I'll be able to do for others what my drill instructor did for me."

Espinal said James will leave Brussels having made it a better place.

"Sergeant James lives the NCO core leadership values of 'Be, Know, Do,'" Espinal said. "I'm happy he's going to a position where he'll touch lots of soldiers with his example."

(Thad Moyseowicz works in the U.S. Army Garrison Brussels public affairs office.)

Obama: Health Care Reform Won't Impact VA, Tricare

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Aug. 4, 2009 - In ongoing discussions about health-care reform, President Barack Obama offered assurance today to those receiving medical care through Tricare or the Department of Veterans Affairs: Your benefits are safe. Eligibility for health care under VA or Tricare "will not be affected by our efforts at broader health-care reform," Obama told military reporters at the White House today.

Obama said he also made that point clear after today's meeting with the American Legion's national commander, Dave Rehbein, and executive director, Peter Gaytan.

"I want to make sure that message gets out to our veterans," the president said. "I think it's very important to get the message out: If you are in the VA system and are happy with your care, great. We have no intention of changing your eligibility."

While a new, national program won't force anyone to change health-care systems, Obama said it could offer benefits or geographic convenience that might make some veterans elect to join it. A national program "will actually give them more choices, more flexibility," he said.

Obama cited problems in U.S. health-care delivery systems, which he said cost more than other countries' programs and too often deliver less.

The VA "has probably made more progress than most systems out there in increasing quality" during the past 25 years, and could help shed light on better ways of delivering health care, he said.

But the cost of delivering that care is high even at VA, and Tricare consumes a big piece of the Defense Department's budget, he said.

With the fiscal 2010 budget reflecting the largest VA funding increase in 30 years, Obama told American Legion leaders he is committed to ensuring that VA provides America's veterans the highest-quality health care possible.

Meanwhile, he told reporters VA will increase its outreach to more veterans to make sure they're aware of their medical benefits and other entitlements.

"Although there are hundreds of thousands of veterans who are using our services, we know there are hundreds of thousands more who may not know that benefits are available," he said.

"And we are working really hard to make sure that every single veteran – not just our active force, but also National Guard and reservists, are aware of the benefits that are available to them.

"Guiding them through that process, we think, is extraordinarily important."