President Obama will use his Veterans Day platform to push Congress for a broad slate of new legislation and reforms, including plans to squeeze for-profit colleges' ability to accept GI Bill benefits.
The commander in chief is also touting progress and reforms at the Department of Veterans Affairs at a time when public confidence in the agency is still shaky, and lawmakers' criticism of operations continues to rise.
But White House officials said progress on a number of veterans priorities has been steady and laudable, including a dramatic reduction in the benefits claims backlog in recent years and improved aid for homeless veterans.
On Wednesday, Virginia officials will announce they have become will be the first state to end veterans homelessness, just a few weeks after Connecticut became the first state to end chronic homelessness within its borders.
In addition, mayors from the cities of Las Vegas, New York's Syracuse and New York's Schenectady will announced they have effectively ended homelessness in their municipalities, joining a growing list that already includes Houston, New Orleans, Phoenix and Salt Lake City.
Obama in 2009 pledged to end homelessness among veterans nationwide by the start of 2016. From 2010 to 2014, the number of homeless veterans nationwide dropped more than one-third to fewer than 50,000 individuals.
Cecilia Muñoz, the White House Domestic Policy Council director, said the homelessness numbers, like many other VA initiatives, "show a lot of progress has been made, but we also have a lot more to do."
Many of those veterans goals will require help from Congress. Obama is pushing for lawmakers to approve a plan to consolidate VA’s outside care programs, extend education benefits for student veterans whose schools close unexpectedly, and make sure those benefits pay for credentialing programs that meet state rules.
But the most controversial legislation Obama is backing is a bill introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., this week, which would reinstate the 85/15 rule for for-profit colleges.
Under the proposal, the schools would not be allowed to collect more than 85 percent of their revenue from federal sources. Currently, that figure is 90 percent, and GI Bill funds do not count against that cap.
Critics want to eliminate that exemption, saying it gives schools incentives to over recruit veterans. Obama is backing that idea, one that has proved unpopular with for-profit officials and Republicans in Congress.
The president is also calling for lawmakers to help reform the veterans benefits appeals process, which has come under extra scrutiny as the first-time claims backlog has dropped in recent years.
That backlog — cases which took more than four months to process — peaked around 612,000 claims in spring 2013, but dropped to around 75,000 this month. However, the appeals caseload has risen steadily by almost 75,000 claims over the same stretch.
Veterans groups have lamented that the average wait time for those cases to be settled is more than three years, with reports of much longer waits common.
Obama is scheduled to make remarks at Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday morning as part of his Veterans Day schedule.