By MICHELLE RINDELS, Associated Press
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Seeking to allay concern about looming cuts to defense spending, Vice President Joe Biden told veterans Saturday that their benefits will be protected, even as he derided lawmakers from both parties for much talk and little action on a deal to avert the cuts.
Biden said President Barack Obama is "committed to the core" to taking care of service members returning from war. He accused members of Congress of playing political "brinksmanship" with the nation's security.
"Look, we're going to get through this, in my view, but this is a hell of a way to do business," Biden said. "We owe our military more certainty."
Addressing the Disabled American Veterans' national convention, Biden reminded veterans that their medical care was exempted from automatic cuts due to hit military and domestic programs on Jan. 2. He also said the Obama administration has increased funding to veterans by 30 percent, and promised to end a massive backlog of disability claims by 2015.
An estimated 4,000 people are attending the convention at Bally's Hotel in Las Vegas to discuss issues such as mental health care for returning veterans and the backlog of Veterans Affairs disability claims.
Touching on a central theme of Obama's re-election campaign, Biden urged higher taxes on the rich, and said politicians should take a cue from veterans in setting tax policy.
"We can all take a page from your book — a sense of shared sacrifice and the understanding that all of us, all of us have to do our part," Biden told the gathering at Bally's Hotel in Las Vegas.
Biden's visit came a day after Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigned in North Las Vegas. Both candidates are competing fiercely for Nevada's six electoral votes ahead of the November election.
Danny Pagan, a retired, 28-year Army veteran from Conyers, Georgia, said he was impressed by the speech and said he's seen Obama policies helping veterans firsthand.
"The president is doing what he said he's doing for veterans and that's what it's all about," Pagan said.
Stacy Tuck, a Disabled American Veterans member from Kaysville, Utah, said the administration has "stepped up" to help veterans, but was more skeptical about Biden's broad promises.
"People tell you what you want to hear," she said.
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