Presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden, D-Delaware, told residents of the New Hampshire Veterans Home he is introducing legislation that will prohibit government agencies from contracting out services to veterans, a practice which he said has created unsafe conditions at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington.
"In order to save money there we contracted out operations to a private firm and the number of maintenance workers dropped from 300 to 50. It was a business decision and it was about profit. But we're going to end it. Taking care of veterans is not about making money and the bottom line. The bottom line is the veterans and the kind of care they receive,'' said Biden.
He said the legislation would also establish uniform standards for medical records of all branches of the service, making it easier for veterans to qualify for benefits to which they are entitled as well as provide for a 12-month period of medical and family leave for family members who are helping care for service members recuperating from severe injuries.
"We've made a lot of promises to our veterans which we aren't keeping and I want to change that. Keeping those promises is more important than another tax cut for the wealthiest Americans,'' said Biden.
Biden called his plan the New Contract With Veterans and said he plans to "encourage, cajole and embarrass'' his colleagues into supporting the measure, which has as one of its stated goals development of a 50-year plan for long-term care for those who suffer traumatic injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We've had over 3,680 dead and more than 26,000 wounded. This war has taken its toll in a new way with roadside bombs producing the kinds of injuries which will require 10-20-40 years of expensive and intensive care for many of the wounded,'' said Biden.
He said that as many as 40 percent of those killed and wounded are members of the National Guard and reserve units, the highest ratio since the Civil War, and said that the way the war is being fought, with constant redeployments of the same units after stateside stays, is bound to produce and unprecedented level of post traumatic stress syndrome.
Biden said it is estimated that the long-term cost of medical care for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is $1.74 trillion, one trillion of which will be for the long-term care of those seriously injured.
"It's important that we pledge now to keep our promise to veterans,'' said Biden, who said his own son, a captain in the reserves who is also the attorney general for the state of Delaware, will be headed out with his unit for duty in Iraq early next year.