With tears in her eyes, Amanda Souza told Obama about her husband who suffered from PTSD after his time in the military and then committed suicide.
"He was diagnosed with PTSD, but unfortunately, like many of our service men and women, this was his career, this was his livelihood and he was too scared to go get help because he did not want to risk being labeled as unstable or weak. Unfortunately, he did not get the help that he needed ... My question to you is how can we ensure that our military men and women understand that it's OK to get the help that they need and that they're not going to risk their careers, that they are not going to be labeled?"
Obama responded: "If you break your leg, you're going to go to a doctor to get that leg healed. If, as a consequence of the extraordinary stress and pain that you are witnessing, typically, in a battlefield, something inside you feels like it's wounded, it's just like a physical injury. You've got to go get help. And there's nothing weak about that. That's strong ... But ultimately, that has to pervade the culture of our military ... So we're putting money behind this. We are hiring more mental health professionals."
While clutching her late husband's folded American flag, Donna Coates, the widow of army veteran Barry Coates, said he waited more than a year for a colonoscopy at a VA hospital. But by the time he got one, it revealed terminal cancer that had metastasized. The family sued the VA and that claim was settled.
"So when are we going to actually start holding these contracted doctors and the VA employees accountable?" she asked Obama. "For it's a difference between life and death. And families like mine, they're tired of waiting. And the only true change that's come since we began talking was that I am now a widow. And my family, we will never be the same."
Obama responded: "So part of what was happening, and we're beginning to fix it, but we're not there yet, is, in taking appointments, we were using old systems where somebody would answer the phone, they'd write down, try to schedule it, then they'd hand it off to somebody who then would input it into some old, rickety computer ... So we're having to rebuild information systems, intake systems -- part of what we've done, working with Congress, was also making sure that if somebody is in a situation where, for example, they live far away from a facility, that they now have recourse to go to a private doctor, and to get, that doctor can get reimbursed. So across the board, we're working on these issues. But I think it's really important to understand that the VA schedules 58 million appointments every year. Fir million. And I want zero errors in all that process."
Marine Corporal Brandon Rumbaugh lost both of his legs during his second deployment to Afghanistan in an IED blast while carrying a stretcher to help his friends, who had been injured in an earlier explosion.
"We have men and women that serve in combat theaters four, five, even six times in such small amount of time. What can we do to take the burden off of these service members and also, at the same time, increase the number of citizens that serve our country?" he asked Obama.
Obama responded: "I would like to see more of our young men and women serve including people who are, you know, underrepresented right now. And a lot of those are folks who are from higher income brackets, you know. So we've got to do a better job at showing them how they can help. And I think people will be willing to help."
Lauren Serrano is an active duty Marine who earned a Bronze Star for her service in Iraq.
"A study by the Marine Corps revealed that mixed gender combat units performed notably worse and that women suffered staggeringly higher rates of injury ... Why were these tangible negative consequences disregarded and how does the integration of women positively enhance the infantry mission and make me and my husband safer?"
Obama responded: "The one thing that I do know is that as a consequence of women serving in our military and opening up what used to be closed situations to them, we've gained a lot of talent ... I want to make sure that our starting assumption is if you can do the job, you should be able to get the job ... If it turns out they can't do something, then we'll deal with that specific situation. But I don't want to start off with that assumption."