Democratic presidential candidates Sens. John F. Kerry and Joe Lieberman launched Veterans Day attacks on President Bush for his treatment of former service members and outlined their own plans for improving benefits.
"On this Veterans Day, particularly with 135,000 soldiers on duty in Iraq and others in the Balkans, Afghanistan and elsewhere ... we should commit ourselves to take good care of them the other 364 days of the year," Lieberman (D-Conn.) said Sunday while campaigning in New Hampshire.
"We must do our part to care for those who have borne the burdens of battle," Kerry (D-Mass.) said in material prepared for appearances today in Iowa.
Kerry, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, said the Bush administration had been lacking in treatment for veterans.
Kerry called for mandatory funding of veterans health-care programs to ensure eligible veterans care at VA hospitals, and warned that under existing plans, up to 500,000 veterans could be excluded from the government health-care system by 2005.
Another piece of Kerry's package would provide mortgage insurance for National Guard and reserve members. The plan would ensure that members who see their pay cut when they are called to active duty wouldn't lose their homes.
Lieberman said Bush promised during the 2000 presidential campaign that "help was on the way" for the military, and instead cut combat pay, compromised health care and threatened to eliminate public schools for domestic military families.
Lieberman, who is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, outlined a 12-part proposal.
As part of his plan, he offered "a decent wage" along with special compensation for housing, health care and other services so veterans can provide for their families. He vowed not to cut military pay if he were president.
In defending his record, Bush said in a campaign release that his 2004 budget contained the largest increase for the Department of Veterans Affairs ever requested. He also said he increased the budget for the agency more in his first two years in office than it had been in the previous six years.