WASHINGTON — Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney blasted President Barack Obama for “reproachable failures” in the treatment of veterans during a speech before the American Legion’s national convention Wednesday, and pledged to provide better care to veterans and military personnel.
Taking a break from the GOP convention in Florida, Romney addressed the veterans group in Indianapolis and promised reform in the Department of Veterans Affairs to honor the service and sacrifice of all military personnel.
He criticized the department’s lengthy benefits backlog and deficiencies in providing mental health care to returning war veterans.
“The problems with the VA are serious, and must be fixed,” Romney said. “We are in danger of another generation of veterans losing their faith in VA system. On my watch, that will not be allowed to happen.”
Department officials have proposed improvements to both areas in recent months, promising to hire 1,900 new mental health staffers this year and unveiling streamlined benefits processing programs to eliminate the claims backlog.
As of Monday, VA officials still had more than 570,000 disability compensation claims that have been pending for more than three months, a figure that’s remained stagnant since the start of the year.
Romney also announced a proposal to extend full tuition benefits for veterans to attend any state school nationwide, regardless of their state of residence. Currently, veterans using the post-9/11 GI Bill can attend any state school for free only if they are a legal resident of that state.
Campaign officials did not provide any details on the costs of that change.
The Republican nominee also said he would “make it easier for veterans to find employment in skilled trades” by backing for nationwide credentialing and licensing standards, so military skills can be easily transferred to civilian jobs. Obama has already pushed for similar proposals.
Romney received criticism last month following his appearance at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention for barely discussing veterans issues, opting instead to deliver a speech heavy on foreign policy.
Wednesday’s speech also featured criticism of Obama on those same topics – Romney blasted the president’s handling of tension in Syria, Iran, North Korea and Pakistan – and a promise from the former Massachusetts governor that he’ll bring “leadership” back to U.S. foreign policy.
Earlier in the day, officials from the Truman National Security Project, which has close ties to the Obama campaign, held a press call criticizing Romney’s commitment to veterans health care and programs, specifically lamenting his past proposals to privatize some aspects of the VA system.
They also noted Obama has provided significant budget increases for the VA in each of his annual budget proposals, and questioned whether Romney would make the same financial commitment.