Bush reminded the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Milwaukee that he had asked Congress to provide an additional $39 billion for Pentagon spending, "the largest increase in military spending since Ronald Reagan was the commander in chief."
Then, switching from national priorities to personal ones, he lamented the plight of veterans who find themselves in endless red tape when applying for health care and other benefits due them.
"Veterans in need of care have been kept waiting, and thousands of veterans' claims have been delayed or in some cases lost in the bureaucracy," Bush said.
"Many veterans have observed that the government seemed to work a lot more efficiently when it wanted something from them. When the draft board got your file, it worked efficiently."
That line was one of several that drew laughter.
The President said he had told his Veterans Affairs Secretary, Anthony J. Principi, to put the highest possible priority on untangling the problems with veterans' health care.
"Currently, there are about 600,000 pending applications, of which 53,000 have been pending over a year," Bush said. "Many of those belong to veterans over 70 years of age. That's not right.
"I have given Secretary Principi the clearest of clear mandates; he must bring those claims to a speedy and fair resolution. We must move as quickly as possible on the backlog, and we will."
Bush also produced guffaws when he spoke of his love for traveling about the country. "It's important for a President never to become isolated in the seat of power," he said. "As great and influential as that city is, sometimes a President just has to get out of . . . Crawford, Texas."
Bush flew to Milwaukee today from his ranch in Texas, where he has been on vacation.
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sident Bush told a group of veterans on Monday that he would see to it that the government keeps its promises to those who've worn the uniform, according to The New York Times.