WILKES-BARRE – Beau Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden and an Iraq War veteran, said the Obama administration has increased spending for veterans' benefits every year and will continue to do so next year.
Biden held a press conference in downtown Scranton on Wednesday afternoon and later stopped at The Times Leader to discuss veterans' benefits as he campaigned for the Obama-Biden Democratic ticket.
To help veterans returning from war with psychological challenges and those who have been injured in action, Biden said the Department of Veterans Affairs recently announced a national recruitment program to hire mental-health professionals.
"This isn't just about the suicide rate," Biden, 43, said. "It's also about the more than 50,000 wounded veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, or those with head trauma injuries or amputees. That's why the president has allocated more money than any president in history for veterans."
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently said suicide kills more military members than armed conflict or roadside bombs.
The Post-Gazette noted July was the worst month for military suicides – 38 – since the Army began keeping detailed records in 2009. In June, 26 active-duty personnel took their own lives.
Biden, who is attorney general for the state of Delaware, said President Barack Obama recognizes the cost of war goes beyond economics.
"The president realizes the enormous costs to military personnel and their families," he said. "That's why he has made such a strong commitment to all veterans. He has put his money where his mouth is."
Biden said the Democratic policy on veterans is in "sharp contrast" to the Republican team of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. He said the Ryan budget calls for 17 to 20 percent across the board cuts, including veterans and the VA.
"My grandfather used to say, ‘Don't tell me what your priorities are – show me your budget and I'll tell you what your priorities are,' " he said.
Biden said the Romney-Ryan budget plan would be "disastrous for middle-class families, veterans, seniors and students – raising taxes on the middle class, cutting funding for veterans programs and education investments, and turning Medicare into a voucher program to pay for tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires."
Biden's stop in the region was the last of a series of events with veterans in Pennsylvania Wednesday. He visited Philadelphia and Allentown earlier in the day.
He added that under the Romney-Ryan plan, Pennsylvania students and teachers could feel a devastating impact, including: a cut of $186 million for K-12 schools; 12,000 fewer spots for Head Start programs in the next two years; and an average cut of $810 in Pell Grants for 313,000 Pennsylvania students.
Kate Meriwether, Romney spokeswoman, responded by stating the House-passed budget spends more than Obama's proposed budget when it comes to veterans funding.
"A Romney-Ryan administration will ensure our veterans and military families are provided every ounce of support they have earned, including a full funding of veteran programs," she said. "It is unfortunate the Obama campaign would resort to this type of attack. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are strong supporters of our veterans and will stop President Obama's looming defense cuts that his own Secretary of Defense called ‘devastating' and could overwhelm Veterans Affairs."
Meriwether said Obama's policies have made it harder for veterans to find jobs.
"The Romney-Ryan economic plan will ensure that our veterans have better prospects for finding work when they return home from defending our country," she said.
Biden said Pennsylvania is a key state in the 2012 election and Northeastern Pennsylvania "is a critical region" in winning the state's 20 electoral votes.
"The president and my father are proud to have carried Pennsylvania in 2008," he said. "It's always good to be back in this beautiful part of the country."