Kerry Upbraids President on Vets Policy

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Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) is telling fellow veterans that the Bush administration has failed U.S. troops in Iraq while neglecting soldiers who served in past wars.

Kerry, a veteran of the Vietnam War (search), said as president he would get more allies involved in Iraq, improve pay for U.S. soldiers and ensure veterans the benefits they were long ago promised.

"If I am commander in chief, I won't just bring to that profound responsibility the perspective of sitting in the Situation Room (search). I'll also bring the perspective of someone who's fought on the front lines," the Massachusetts senator said in a draft of his Monday address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (search) in San Antonio, Texas.

"And I will ensure that America always is the best equipped, best trained and most powerful fighting force in the world," Kerry said.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice were addressing the group after Kerry.

Kerry, who formally announces his candidacy next week, is casting himself as the only Democratic candidate capable of neutralizing Bush's advantage on national security issues. Kerry was highly decorated for his service aboard a gunboat during the Vietnam War.

In his address, Kerry suggested that the Bush administration has not heeded the lessons of Vietnam in its planning on Iraq. "Above all, we learned that the interests of the grunts on the ground come before all politics and all ideology. And what we urgently need now to protect our young men and women in uniform -- and America's role in the world -- are decisions based on professional military judgments and strategic vision, not politics and pride," Kerry said.

"I believe a lack of planning and the lack of candor with the American people have placed our men and women in uniform in increased harm's way."

He said the Bush administration has "stubbornly refused' to allow other nations to assume risks in Iraq. Kerry urged wider involvement of the United Nations.

"With the threats we face, we can never cede our security to others, but even a nation as great as the United States needs some friends in this world," he said.

On veterans issues, Kerry criticized the GOP-led House for seeking to cut $1.8 billion from Veterans Administration health care programs (search) that he said are already in poor shape. More than 130,000 veterans are waiting for care at VA facilities, Kerry said, and more than 50,000 wait longer than six months for their first doctor's visit.

"We shouldn't be neglecting to care for our troops and their families before, during and after the war," Kerry said.

He criticized the Pentagon for opposing legislation that would extend an increase in combat pay for troops in Iraq and other war zones. Kerry said troops should be paid comparable to what they would be earning in the private sector.