WASHINGTON Mitt Romney's presidential campaign is raising some of the same complaints about veterans' plight that then-Senator Barack Obama did four years ago, as both sides gear up for an election in which the veteran vote in swing states could be of critical importance.
But many veteran advocates are still waiting for Romney to spell out how he would do better than his opponent.
"We haven't ... heard any specific plans yet from Governor Romney or his campaign," said Bob Wallace, executive director at the Washington office of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, echoing the sentiment of many advocates.
Asked by Reuters for information on Romney's plans for helping U.S. veterans, the campaign provided a single-page document. It laments veterans' high unemployment, a growing backlog of disability claims and "unacceptable bureaucratic delay and neglect" at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The document also criticizes military spending cuts that Obama and Congress agreed on - a staple of Romney's campaign rhetoric, but perhaps of less immediate concern to many former troops in need of VA services.
Speaking at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno, Nevada, on Tuesday, Romney focused almost exclusively on national security, making only passing mention of the "already stretched VA system" and promising to guarantee veterans top-notch care.
Anthony Principi, a former VA secretary for President George W. Bush who now works on the Romney campaign, said that a Romney administration would see that the VA got adequate resources. As for the cuts to Pentagon spending, "the greatest benefit you can give to veterans ... is the capability to win a war and come home safe," said Principi, co-chairman of the campaign's Veterans Policy Advisory Group.
At a Veterans Day gathering in South Carolina last November, Romney raised eyebrows with his musings about whether a voucher system might improve healthcare for veterans by spurring competition with the private sector. That didn't sit well with many veterans, and his campaign later stressed Romney wasn't voicing a policy proposal. He hasn't mentioned the idea again.
He was also reported by NBC to have told a private fundraising event in April that he might eliminate the Department of Housing and Urban Development, once run by his father and deeply involved with efforts to drive down veteran homelessness.
Asked about this comment, campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said Romney was committed to finding areas in the federal government where he can increase efficiency and reduce spending.
Romney also told veterans last November he would redirect savings from elsewhere in the government to ensure "we're providing for our veterans in the way they deserve to be treated."
(Editing by John Blanton)