President Barack Obama will return to the Twin Cities today for a speech before the American Legion's annual convention in which he's expected to tackle veterans' issues, including unemployment and mental health.
Minnesota vets have been hit especially hard by the tough economic times. A recent study by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress showed Minnesota has one of the highest rates of joblessness in the nation for post-Sept. 11 veterans, 22.9 percent. That's more than three times the unemployment rate for civilians.
Mental health issues among vets are also a high priority for the White House, according to White House Director of Veterans and Wounded Warrior Policy Matt Flavin.
"We've seen spikes in the suicide rate that are very troubling and unacceptable, and we have to do more there," he said, ahead of the president's visit. "There's obviously an issue with stigma, and we've done a lot of good work on that but it's not enough."
Navy veteran Kevin Roetzer, of St. Louis Park, will be among the thousands on hand to hear the president speak. He served on a ship during the first Gulf War 20 years ago, and just joined the American Legion a year ago.
"I don't know what to expect, but hopefully we'll get a lot of good things out of him," Roetzer said. "I hear a lot of the other local politicians are going to be here this morning as well," including Gov. Mark Daytons and Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar.
Air Force veteran Joe Duffy, of South St. Paul, praised Obama's support for veterans, but thinks the president's work isn't finished.
"I think he's done a good job. I just don't think he can get the backing of the legislation to do what he wants to do," Duffy said. "He seems to say he wants to do a lot more. But he's only one vote, right?"
The American Legion says its annual convention is the nation's largest gathering of veterans and their families.
Obama was last in Minnesota two weeks ago when he launched a three day jobs and economy tour of the Midwest with a speech at a Cannon Falls park.