Tuesday, July 10, 2012 | 6:10 p.m.
After completing a lunchtime speech to about 2,000 people, Vice President Joe Biden made an unannounced stop Tuesday to talk to a much smaller, though important, Las Vegas audience.
A motorcade whisked the vice president and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, from the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, where he had addressed the National Council of La Raza national conference, to the U.S. VETS career center in downtown Las Vegas. There, Biden took the time to greet all of the 32 veterans and five staff members who were in a life skills seminar.
Biden said veterans were “conditioned not to ask” for help but encouraged them to feel confident in asking for the services and aid they require.
“You guys don’t have a damn thing to be ashamed of,” he told the veterans. “We owe you. We owe you.”
With temperatures in Las Vegas rising above 110 degrees, Biden ditched the jacket from his navy blue suit, rolled up his sleeves and shook the hand of every veteran. Jill Biden, wearing a yellow dress with a matching jacket, also greeted everyone before taking a seat in front of a large mural depicting a bald eagle.
At the time of the visit, instructor Christi Hawk was conducting a life-skills class for veterans. Just as she was talking about identifying and managing various emotions and behaviors, the Bidens walked through a door in the back of the room.
“Oh, it looks like we have a special visitor,” Hawk said, as everyone stood and applauded.
As Biden wandered around the room with his arms folded, passing by the round tables where the veterans were seated, he emphasized his appreciation for the veterans’ service.
The vice president said that when soldiers returned from the Vietnam War, many in the United States turned their backs on the veterans, and he did not want veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to experience the same.
Biden said 2.2 million members of the U.S. armed forces have “walked across those damn scorching sands of Iraq and open mountains of Afghanistan, and we wanted to make sure that when they came home they didn’t run into the same resistance.”
The Obama administration has lobbied for the creation of a Veterans Jobs Corps that would employ Afghanistan and Iraq veterans on a range of projects that utilize skills developed in the military, including first-responder jobs. The administration recently announced funding for new law enforcement positions for veterans through Community Oriented Policing Services hiring grants. Under the program, all new law enforcement positions must be filled by recent veterans who served at least 180 days since Sept. 11, 2001.
Biden said more veterans were surviving battle wounds than in previous wars, and the country has an obligation to provide health care to veterans for the remainder of their lives.
Pulling a piece of paper from his back right pocket, Biden recited the numbers of those killed and wounded in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.
“I always want to make sure I have the exact number because every life is sacred,” he said. “There are 6,395 dead in these two wars, 48,914, as of yesterday, wounded. Of those wounded over 20,000 will need health care for the rest of their life.”
U.S. VETS is an organization that helps veterans transition back into civilian life after active-duty service. The organization provides counseling, housing and career development, among other services.
The two Las Vegas locations of U.S. VETS serve approximately 250 veterans and include130 rooms for veteran housing, according to Krystal Cotton, a case manager with U.S. VETS.