Mona Shield Payne/Special to the Sun
Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012 | 4:33 p.m.
Vietnam War veteran Dean Fulkerson thought he knew what to expect when Vice President Joe Biden spoke Saturday at the Disabled American Veterans national conference in Las Vegas.
At age 70, the Houston resident has seen politicians speak before. He expected Biden to be charismatic and personable and to say all the right things. He did. Biden talked about a focus on improving health care benefits for veterans, efforts to limit veterans' unemployment and increasing the Veterans Affairs budget.
All of it pleased Fulkerson, but there was something else about the speech he didn’t expect. To Fulkerson, Biden seemed invested in the issues surrounding war veterans today.
“I expect politicians to tell me what I want to hear, and today was no different,” Fulkerson said. “But his knowledge, insight and investment (into veterans issues) in his own personal life was astonishing.”
Biden spoke for 45 minutes to the hundreds of Disabled American Veterans members from across the country who gathered in the Bally’s Convention Center ballroom. It was his second trip to Las Vegas in less than a month.
Throughout his speech, he wove his personal experiences with details about the government’s efforts to correct veterans issues.
He talked about his son volunteering for the Iraq war and the 2.4 million others who served with him in Iraq and Afghanistan. He shared a story about visiting a veteran who apologized that he couldn’t stand to salute Biden because his legs had been amputated.
The crowd applauded as Biden talked about making it easier for victims of post-traumatic stress disorder and other unseen injuries to receive benefits and the attempt to eliminate backlogged health care orders by 2015.
“If we have peace for the next 20 years, memories (of war) will fade, but our obligation doesn’t,” Biden said. “… Every one of these warriors deserves the best treatment available as long as they live.”
Biden mentioned the high unemployment rates for post-9/11 veterans but said recent measures to provide tax cuts and incentives to hire veterans has produced more than 100,000 jobs.
He received his loudest cheer when he delved into Congress’ gridlock on budget cuts. Biden said both parties pushed for reductions for all government programs to motivate a compromise but that he kept the Veterans Affairs budget exempt.
“The contribution you made to our nation will outlive us all,” Biden said. “It propelled America to heights our predecessors could not even imagine.”
When Biden finished, many veterans echoed Fulkerson’s sentiments. Vietnam War veteran Oscar Bruno said his expectations were exceeded; World War II veteran Joe Vento, who lives in Las Vegas, wanted Biden to run for president.
“You see the genuineness of his delivery and his knowledge,” Vento said. “I’d like to see him as president.”
Fulkerson just wants the government to take care of veterans.
“I hope and pray our politicians hold funds separate for the 1 percent of the population that served in Afghanistan and Iraq wars,” Fulkerson said. “… My main concern is toward those young men and women who served.”
The Nevada Republican Party could not be reached for comment on Biden's visit.