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AP - Biden Calls for Change in Way Vets Qualify for Medical Care

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Location: Des Moines, IA

AP - Biden Calls for Change in Way Vets Qualify for Medical Care

Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden said the nation needs to radically streamline the way veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan qualify for medical care in government-run veterans hospitals.

Some veterans returning from war have had to wait as much as 170 days for their application for care to go through. If they have to appeal, many wait 200 or more days, said Biden, who was campaigning in Iowa on Sunday.

``There are intolerable delays in qualifying,'' he said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press. ``We are bringing home so many veterans with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress syndrome. Because of the nature of deployment and repeated deployment, I want to make sure they don't get caught up in this delay.''

Biden, a Delaware senator and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he wants the government to presume that soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with brain injury or post-traumatic stress received their injuries because of the war. Currently, soldiers must prove their injuries were the result of war, he said. Biden wants the presumption to shift in favor of the soldier unless the government can prove the injury wasn't because of their service.

He said returning soldiers need immediate treatment because they have the highest suicide rate of any generation of veterans, the highest divorce rate and the highest percentage of soldiers suffering brain injury.

``If we allow them to get caught up in this bureaucratic nightmare, we will inflicting another wound on them,'' he said.

He criticized the Bush administration for resisting attempts to increase funding for veterans care. He said the administration fears that acknowledging so many soldiers need care will bring out the true cost of the war in Iraq.

``It will bring out the fact that the cost of this war has been immense in terms of blood and treasure,'' Biden said.

The White House had earlier said Bush's Veterans Day speech would criticize Congress for not sending him the appropriations measure that funds programs for veterans, saying there is no reason why Congress could not have sent the bill to the president by Veterans Day, as he requested, except that lawmakers wanted to attach it to other bills the president has said he would veto.

Once Bush was at Sunday's ceremony at American Legion Post 121 in Waco, Texas, however, he decided not to mention the budget fight.

Afterward, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Bush shortened his remarks to meet with the families of four Texans who had died in Iraq.

The veterans bill has gotten caught up in a larger battle between Bush and Congress over Democratic efforts to add about $23 billion for domestic programs to Bush's $933 billion proposal for all agency budgets.

The Democrats' veterans' bill adds $3.7 billion over Bush's request for the Veterans Affairs Department's budget. The increase would ease waiting times to claim VA health benefits and add money to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.

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