The Associated Press - Obama Pledges Better Veterans Care
By AMY LORENTZEN
NEW HAMPTON, Iowa - Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama on Friday pledged to institute better care for America's veterans if elected.
His campaign billed the plan as a way to "ensure that the United States keeps its sacred trust with our nation's veterans when they return home from war."
Obama, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, promised improved medical care and an end to delays of disability claims. He proposed hiring more workers to handle claims, and making veterans' medical records electronic so they can be easily accessed.
"As president, I won't stand for hundreds of thousands of veterans waiting for benefits," he said in remarks prepared for delivery later in the day in Mason City.
The Illinois senator outlined his plan after recent reports showed that the Department of Veterans Affairs has lagged in making improvements to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The government is investigating the hospital due to disclosures of roach-infested conditions and shoddy outpatient care.
Obama said it's not enough to make a speech on Veteran's Day or lay a wreath on Memorial Day.
"When a veteran is denied health care, we are all dishonored," he said. "When 400,000 veterans are stuck on a waiting list for claims, we need a new sense of urgency in this country."
Obama said too many veterans slip through the cracks, and he would institute a zero tolerance policy for veteran homelessness.
"When we've got young veterans of a misguided war in Iraq sleeping on the streets of our cities and towns, we need a change in Washington," he said.
Obama said an effort must also be made to bring together veterans groups and bureaucrats to help move veterans through the system quickly and with the best treatment, "instead of shutting veterans out."
"We'll make sure that our disabled vets receive the benefits they deserve, and we'll allow all veterans back into the VA health care system," he said.
During an appearance early Friday in New Hampton, Obama spoke at a city park surrounded by cornfields. He said Americans are realizing "the system isn't working for us."
"Part of the reason people are coming out is they want this administration to come to an end, and they are reacting to some of the problems that we have seen over the last six years," he told a crowd of more than 300.