ST. LOUIS – Democrat John Kerry (search) told veterans Saturday that "we've got to get folks out there marching again" for their benefits.
On the one-year anniversary of President Bush's (search) declaration that major combat had ended in Iraq, Kerry visited a diner and had breakfast with a dozen veterans who complained about low-quality medical care and the continuing violence in Iraq.
Fields Black, a 33-year-old former Marine who served during the Persian Gulf War, said he has a lung disease from breathing fumes from oil wells in Kuwait set alight by Iraq's occupying army. Black said the Veterans Administration (search) has told him it cannot pay to send him to Wisconsin for treatment that would extend his life.
Black said he is outraged at the deteriorating situation in Iraq after Bush flew onto the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln last May 1 and spoke under a banner declaring "Mission Accomplished."
"You land on the aircraft carrier, strutting your stuff, and I have a hard time walking," said Black, who uses a cane and breathes from an oxygen tank that he rolls behind him. "How dare you? That's how I look at the president."
Kerry, a Vietnam veteran who later protested that war, said Black's story choked him up and reinforced why he's running for president. He asked for Black's address and said he would try to help him.
The Massachusetts senator also planned to visit Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington later Saturday to talk privately with patients.
"It's not something I'm doing for the campaign," Kerry said. "It's just personal."