Vice President Joe Biden today lauded the nation’s military veterans who have fought battles overseas, but he made clear that there’s a limit to what the United States’ military can do.
“It’s time for those we liberated to stand up and put themselves together,” Biden said at the end of a lengthy speech to about 12,000 members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars gathered in St. Louis at the America's Center convention hall downtown.
He praised the achievements of America’s military, calling the troops “the muscle, the sinew, the heart of this great country. You are America’s spine.”
Biden also repeatedly emphasized the Obama administration’s commitment to care for U.S. troops and returning veterans.
Still, Biden made clear that the White House won't send troops to Iraq again -- or delay the withdrawal of American troops in Afghanistan.
“America’s troops in Afghanistan are coming home,’’ he said.
Biden acknowledged the heightened sectarian and religious violence besetting Iraq, fed in part by a brutal and radical insurgent group known as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). He also emphasized the administration’s concern about ISIS and its alliance with terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda.
However, Biden declared that it ultimately was up to the Iraqis to defend their own country. He implicitly rejected criticism from some in Congress, primarily Republicans, who blame the troubled state of Iraq on the lack of a continued U.S. military presence.
“While our military can provide the opportunity (for stable elected governments), it cannot solve the problem or the society,” ’’ Biden said.
Biden noted that U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan for 13 years and were in Iraq for close to a decade. The death toll of American troops in both conflicts is close to 6,700, with close to 52,000 wounded.
The vice president said that both conflicts were particularly noteworthy because of the reliance on “an all-volunteer force,’’ many of them reservists or member of the National Guard.
Focus shifting to medical care, jobs
Now, Biden said, the White House is committing to resolving problems with the Veterans Administration’s medical care, which has come under fire for long waiting periods and accusations of intentionally delayed care.
“We will not rest until it is fixed,’’ Biden said.
He cited various administration efforts to help returning veterans obtain jobs. For example, Biden noted that veterans with a military truck driver’s license can now automatically get a commercial driver’s license.
Biden’s 45-minute address followed those of Missouri’s most prominent officials, including Gov. Jay Nixon, and U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt, a Republican, and Claire McCaskill, a Democrat.
Blunt and McCaskill both have been outspoken critics of the VA, jointly signing a letter earlier this year calling for more answers to alleged problems at Missouri VA facilities.
The two have different ideas on how best to resolve the problems, however. Blunt has called for allowing veterans to receive private care at government expense. McCaskill is calling for the removal of more VA officials found to be complicit in delaying care to veterans. She also is advocating more protections for VA employees who have been whistleblowers, saying she is disturbed by reports that some are being punishing for highlighting VA problems.