The federal government is letting down veterans who depend on it for health care, the national commander of the American Legion told a gathering of more than 100 members and guests at Cape Girardeau's Legion Post 63 Monday.
The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Congress are scrambling each year to find money for promised benefits because leaders aren't listening to veterans groups, said Thomas L. Bock of Colorado.
"We have to go back every year, begging for health care for America's heroes," said Bock, a Vietnam-era Air Force veteran.
Solutions to the funding problem, including allowing veterans to make VA health clinics and hospitals their providers under Medicare, are being ignored, Bock said.
"We need to make sure the money is there year after year to take care of our World War II heroes and our new Gulf War heroes," Bock said.
He spoke during the first visit by a national commander to Cape Girardeau since 1955. He's making a three-day swing through Southeast Missouri that continues through Wednesday with visits to Malden, Poplar Bluff, Sikeston and Caruthersville.
Local leaders of Post 63, which was established by World War I veterans in 1919, gave Bock a memento of his visit -- a Hawthorne-wood plaque shaped like Missouri that includes a Missouri mule logo and a star noting where Cape Girardeau is located in the state.
In an easy, folksy speech, Bock cautioned Legion members to accept that some people oppose the war. He also urged them to look beyond daily news reports for the truth about Iraq and other issues, such as the treatment of prisoners at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
Legion members fought for the freedoms embodied in the Constitution and don't want them diminished, Bock said.
"We respect every American's right to free speech whether they support the policy or not," he said.
Bock told the gathering that his son is in Iraq, piloting a Chinook helicopter, has written him regularly to report on the war. "Dad, we are doing good things," Bock quoted his son as writing. "We are doing good things for them."
In a talk that lasted about an hour, Bock spoke of his travels since becoming national commander last August -- he's visited 38 states and several foreign nations, including Iraq -- and of the mission of the Legion.
Bock also told about visiting Guantanamo Bay, where about 500 suspected terrorists are housed. Anyone suggesting the detainees are being mistreated hasn't visited the base, he said.
"We should wish to get care like this for our veterans," he said.
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