- The Washington Times - Friday, May 14, 2004

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry said yesterday that President Bush broke faith with veterans who had been promised medical care, even as he sent thousands of men and women into harm’s way in Iraq.

“Here we are with an administration that is busy creating a whole new generation of veterans,” Mr. Kerry said during a forum at a center for aging associated with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). “Veterans earned their health care … it was a promise made by a nation. People who served their country, I believe, above all have a right to have that promise kept.”

Mr. Kerry, concluding a four-day campaign swing focusing on health care, said Mr. Bush has cut funding for VA health programs and left hundreds of thousands of veterans without care. He called for mandatory funding for veterans health care and for a series of cost-cutting measures to assist veterans and their families.

Prominent Kerry supporters, including former primary rival and fellow Vietnam veteran Wesley Clark, criticized Mr. Bush’s military record. After comparing Mr. Kerry’s public service to that of his detractors, Mr. Clark said, “Some of them put on their cowboy boots and put their feet up on the desk.”

Hershel Gober, who served as secretary of Veterans Affairs under President Clinton, said far too little attention is being given to military personnel serving in the war on terror.

“This war is worse than Vietnam,” Mr. Gober said. “These troops have the highest suicide rate of any war we’ve had.”

Veterans at the forum told Mr. Kerry about their struggles to find help after they came home and complimented Mr. Kerry for his service in the Navy.

“It feels great to have somebody who has been in Vietnam and who has been to war,” said veteran David Smith. “I’ve never had that before.”

Mr. Clark and others contrasted Mr. Kerry’s experience as a Navy swiftboat commander in Vietnam to the National Guard service of Mr. Bush.

“Can you imagine having a president who actually answered the country’s call and went to war when our country needed him as a young man?” Mr. Clark asked during an airport rally.

“John Kerry, when he was a young man, he could have had an easy life, he could have worn cowboy boots,” said Mr. Clark, a retired four-star general who, like Mr. Kerry, was wounded in Vietnam. “He didn’t manage a professional sports team using … his daddy’s name. John Kerry took tough assignments.”

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