* White House increases health services for veterans
* Executive order focuses on suicide prevention
* Mitt Romney says president's steps fall short
EL PASO, Texas, Aug 31 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack
Obama returned on Friday to the site where he announced the end
of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq two years ago, highlighting
his foreign policy record and pledging to take better care of
veterans of America's wars.
Obama visited Fort Bliss, Texas, where on Aug. 31, 2010, he
said he would make good on one of the signature promises from
his 2008 run for the presidency: withdrawing American forces
"We're winding down a decade of war, we're destroying
terrorists' networks that attacked us, and we've restored
American leadership," Obama told some 5,000 soldiers at Fort
Bliss. "As president, I will insist that America serves you and
your families as well as you've served us."
The president, in reaching out to the military community
ahead of the Nov. 6 election, touted his decision to end the war
in Iraq as well as combat operations in Afghanistan. He has
promised to support those returning from war with health
services and resources to find jobs.
"Just as we give you the best equipment and technology on
the battlefield, we need to give you the best support and care
when you come home," Obama said.
Before heading to North Carolina next week to accept the
Democratic nomination for a second term, Obama is also
attempting to turn voters' attention back to foreign policy,
considered by many to be his strong suit in comparison with
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Speaking after a meeting with military families, Obama
reiterated his goal of winding down the war in Afghanistan,
where the United States has been fighting for more than a
decade, by the end of 2014.
"Today every American can be proud that the United States is
safer, the United States is stronger, and the United States is
more respected in the world," he said.
Earlier in the day, the president signed an executive order
directing federal agencies to expand suicide prevention efforts
and take steps to meet the demands for mental health and
substance abuse treatments for veterans.
Obama pledged to provide greater help for those suffering
from the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic
"If you're hurting, it's not a sign of weakness to seek
help, it's a sign of strength. We are here to help you stay
strong, Army strong. That's the commitment I'm making to you,"
A recent Army study estimated as many as 20 percent of the
more than 2 million U.S. troops who served in Iraq and
Afghanistan could be suffering from post-traumatic stress
"We may be turning a page on a decade of war, but America's
responsibilities to you have only just begun," the president
told the audience.
The U.S. military left Iraq at the end of 2011 with a mixed
legacy, and violence and sectarian strife continue there. Obama
has made the U.S. departure a fixture of his campaign speeches,
along with a reminder that under his presidency U.S. forces
killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Republicans, seeking to undermine Obama's foreign policy
record, have criticized him for cutting defense spending and
avoiding U.S. involvement in the 17-month-old uprising against
Syria's Bashar al-Assad.
This week Romney told a meeting of the American Legion that
"veterans face unconscionable waits for mental health treatment"
from the Department of Veteran Affairs.
Obama has worked to improve the VA, but life for many
veterans remains tough. They are more likely to be jobless and
homeless than the general population, and a veteran within the
VA healthcare system tries to commit suicide about once every
half-hour on average.
The executive order the president signed on Friday directs
the VA to increase the veterans crisis line capacity by 50
percent by the end of this year. It also says any veteran
identifying himself or herself as being in crisis should be
connected with a mental health professional within 24 hours.
Americans tend to view Republicans as more capable than
Democrats on the issues of defense and foreign relations. But in
a Washington Post/ABC poll this week, 48 percent of respondents
said they trusted Obama to do a better job handling
international affairs, while 37 percent favored Romney.