WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Top U.S. Democratic White House contenders said on Monday they would improve benefits and healthcare for military veterans if elected, putting a priority on upgraded medical facilities, stronger suicide prevention programs and better care for military spouses and children.
To mark Monday’s U.S. Veterans Day holiday honoring those who served in the military, presidential contenders Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg unveiled plans to honor what Sanders called the “moral obligation” of providing quality care to veterans.
“When you raise your right hand and vow to give everything to your country, America commits to taking care of you and your family,” Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and a veteran who served in Afghanistan, wrote in a column in the Military Times.
Biden, Sanders and Buttigieg are three of the leading contenders in a crowded field of 17 candidates competing for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican President Donald Trump in the November 2020 election.
In their veterans’ plans, Sanders and Buttigieg promised to modernize the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and simplify the claims process so veterans are compensated more quickly and accurately.
Sanders, a U.S. senator and former chairman of the Senate’s Veterans’ Affairs Committee, would fill nearly 50,000 slots for doctors, nurses and other medical professionals at veterans facilities during his first year in office. He also called for at least $62 billion in new funding to repair, modernize and rebuild hospitals and clinics.
Biden, a former vice president whose late son Beau spent a year in Iraq with the army, vowed to hike military pay, eliminate wait times for veterans expressing suicidal thoughts and refurbish healthcare facilities serving veterans.
His administration would invest a combined $800 million in research on traumatic brain injuries and toxic environmental exposures, as well as providing grants and other assistance to military spouses who want to start businesses.
Buttigieg’s plan calls for streamlined access to medical care, including suicide prevention measures. It also would provide more help for families of service members, rescind the transgender military ban and support transition from active-duty to civilian life.
Another top contender, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, released a veterans’ plan last week that aims to cut the suicide rate for veterans in half within four years. Warren has three brothers who served in the U.S. military.
Reporting by John Whitesides; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Amanda Becker; Editing by Peter Cooney, Steve Orlofsky and Jonathan Oatis