Barack quietly visits wounded war veterans

June 29, 2008 2:28:48 PM PDT
Barack Obama stopped by Walter Reed Army Medical Center Saturday to visit wounded war veterans, a group that he has said endures substandard care under the Bush administration. The presumed Democratic nominee, who was in Washington to speak to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, spent about two hours inside the facility. On his way in and out, he did not speak to the small group of reporters who follow him, and the visit wasn't on his public schedule.

Obama has criticized the Bush administration for its treatment of veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and has suggested Republican rival John McCain would continue Bush policies if elected.

The administration was roundly criticized last year after it was revealed that veterans at Walter Reed were housed in rundown accommodations and suffered neglectful care.

Obama has said the country has failed its veterans by allowing such "second-rate conditions," by not giving troops enough time at home and not doing enough to support military families.

During his remarks later Saturday before the Latino group, Obama said "we have to treat our veterans better."

"We're betraying what I think is a solemn pact that we make with our veterans," he said.

And in a speech at a rally with his former Democratic opponent Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday, Obama said voters have a choice about whether to continue spending billions of dollars every month in Iraq, and leave troops there for 20 years, 50 years or 100 years - a line that elicited boos from the crowd.

On veterans issues, McCain is seen by his supporters as having the advantage of military experience - the Arizona senator was a Navy pilot, and spent nearly six years as a Vietnam prisoner of war after he was shot down.

Obama, who serves on the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, often notes that his grandfather served in World War II.

He criticizes McCain for opposing an expansion of the GI bill to guarantee full college scholarships for those who serve in the military for three years. McCain and Pentagon officials say they oppose the bill because they fear it would encourage people to leave after only one enlistment during a war.