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Monitor - Biden Pledges Better Health Care for Vets

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Sen. Joe Biden told an audience of veterans in Tilton yesterday that their health care would be his top priority as president, even if meeting that need left little money for everything else.

"If I have only $10 for the nation's needs and it takes $9 to take care of the veterans, I'll spend all $9 on the veterans before I spend any of it on education or highways," Biden said during a stop at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton. "We owe veterans the best care possible because it's our sacred responsibility."

The message sounded good to the veterans in the room but none interviewed after the visit was quite ready to give Biden, a Democrat from Delaware, their vote for president. "Superb," was how Army veteran Thomas Pillsbury described Biden's remarks. "He seemed sincere." But Pillsbury is still shopping for a candidate.

Biden, who wants U.S. troops out of Iraq by year's end, used stops in Tilton, Nashua and Manchester to unveil his "Contract with Veterans." It's a broad-ranging plan that calls for not only improved health care but also more time off for veterans' family caregivers, assistance with job placement and better handling of disability claims.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Biden said, are sending more soldiers home with head injuries and amputations than ever before. More than 3,600 soldiers have been killed in those wars and nearly 26,000 have been wounded. The country, he said, is not prepared to meet their medical needs, which he said will cost trillions of dollars.

"Those coming home will need a lifetime of highly intensive and expensive care," Biden said, adding that he's concerned the government will neglect its obligation to those veterans once the war vanishes from the media spotlight.

As president, Biden said he would forbid the privatization of military hospitals and stop budget cuts to military medical facilities. He'd also require the Department of Veterans Affairs to study the long-term needs of today's returning soldiers so they can be fulfilled.

Family members who care for veterans should be entitled to 12 months off under the Family and Medical Leave Act, he said. Brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder would get more prompt treatment, under Biden's plan, and the soldier would not have to prove he or she was suffering from those conditions. It would be up to the military, Biden said, to prove they weren't.

Biden would also like to reduce the time it takes veterans to receive disability claims and protect their jobs and standing at college while they are on active duty. He also said he's determined to get the soldiers in Iraq better vehicles, and described in detail the type of vehicle he's "cajoled" his colleagues in Washington into supporting.

The visit was supposed to conclude with a tour of the veterans home, but Biden, who spoke and took questions for 45 minutes, was running behind and declined. Biden would pay for the plan by rescinding Bush's tax cuts on the wealthiest and by bringing the troops home from Iraq, a campaign spokesman said.

Biden didn't leave time to mingle with veterans after his remarks yesterday. A few stayed behind in the veteran home's cafeteria. David Whitney, an army veteran who lived in Hopkinton before moving to Tilton, said he hasn't voted for a Democrat since he supported Henry Truman in the 1940s. Biden neared the top of Whitney's list after yesterday's visit.

"He's obviously very passionate about his subject," Whitney said. "And I appreciate that."

But he still wants to consider his options.

Armand Tremblay, also an Army veteran, is done looking. Biden was a good speaker, Tremblay said, but so are all politicians. Tremblay's vote is going to Sen. Hillary Clinton.

"Women pay attention to the job 100 percent," he said. "Women are the smartest things in the world. If you want to get something done, you ask a woman."

Tremblay went back to his word puzzle and bubble gum. "My nickname is Charmin' Armand," he said with a laugh.

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