HOUSTON (AP) - The federal government will continue to honor the country's "one sacred obligation," to support soldiers and their families during deployments and once they return home, Vice President Joe Biden pledged Tuesday to the nation's largest veterans organization.
Biden praised the sacrifices of veterans and their families during a 30-minute speech to the American Legion, which is holding its annual convention this week at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston.
"We have a lot of obligations as a nation. We only have one sacred obligation, only one truly sacred obligation and that's to equip and support those who we send to war and care for and protect them and their families when they return from war," Biden told the crowd of a couple of thousand veterans and their families.
Biden cited increased budgets, improved medical care and better efforts to bring veterans into the workforce as examples of the support he and President Barack Obama's administration have promised.
He said the federal government is pledging $100 million to fund new research on post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. Biden also said the Department of Veterans Affairs has hired more than 1,600 new mental health care professionals and that the VA's budget has been increased by more than 40 percent.
It was Biden's second trip to Houston this month. Last week, he was in town when his son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, underwent tests and an unspecified medical procedure at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. The vice president did not mention his son during his speech, but said last week that he was doing fine.
A chief concern for veterans has been the backlog of disability claims for compensation for illness and injury caused by military service. Biden said that backlog has been reduced by 20 percent and the hope is to eliminate it by 2015.
"We're working overtime in the VA," he told the American Legion, which was founded in 1919 and has about 2.4 million members and approximately 14,000 local posts around the world.
Biden said the country's commitment to support troops who have been wounded and require continued medical care has to be unwavering.
"Our work, our obligation, our commitment is just beginning ... When the parades are over ... when these two wars have faded from memory, the obligation, the requirement still remains, still continues," he said.