Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told service members and veterans he would not raise their Tricare medical insurance fees among other campaign promises in a speech Wednesday to the American Legion National Convention.
Pentagon leaders over multiple presidential administrations have proposed raising Tricare fees in order to prevent personnel costs from overtaking the Defense Department's annual budget. Congress has repeatedly rejected the proposal.
Romney said as commander-in-chief he would not allow such a proposal to reach Congress.
"I will not ask our war time military to shoulder sacrifices while the rest of government grows," Romney said. "I will not ask our service members, active and retired, to pay more for their health care to free up room for Obamacare."
The Pentagon's efforts to raise Tricare fees predate the Obama administration and the Affordable Health Care Act, but Romney's remark drew applause from the Legionnaires.
The Republican nominee addressed the convention a day before his speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. Romney's speech was a rare opportunity for the presidential candidate to speak about military issues as the economy has dominated the campaign.
Romney spoke in detail about his proposals for improving veteran's education benefits and reducing the disability claims backlog piling up at the Department of Veteran's Affairs.
The former governor of Massachusetts said he wants to make it easier for veterans to afford college including schools outside a veteran's state of residence. He promised to provide in-state tuition to any veteran using the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
"I will also modify the Post-9/11 GI Bill so that any veteran wishing to continue their education is eligible for in-state tuition regardless of residency," Romney told the American Legion.
The new GI Bill pays for tuition and fees for in-state tuition for public institutions, but often fails to cover out-of-state tuition at public colleges and universities for veterans who want to go to school outside their state of residence.
The Republican presidential nominee told the American Legion the country has a responsibility to find good jobs for their veterans. He promised to work with states to find ways to apply military training to receiving professional credentials and licenses in a range of career fields.
"I will work with the states to create a common credentialing and licensing standard and encourage organizations to recognize and grant credit for military training," Romney said.
Romney criticized Obama for cutting the defense budget by nearly $1 trillion as he tried to separate himself from the president's defense outlook over the next four years. However, he saved his harshest critiques for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"I am going to make reforming that agency a personal priority," Romney said.
He ripped VA leaders for allowing disability claims to build up causing some veterans to wait years before receiving benefits.
"The packed back long for disability claims has doubled on [Obama's] watch. There is now close to one million claims waiting to be processed. Veterans face unconscionable waits for mental health treatment," Romney said.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki addressed the growth of the claims backlog in a speech to the convention Tuesday. He said the decision to widen the pool of veterans who can issue claims to include veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder has added to the backlog.
Shinseki said he did not regret that decision and only wished it had come sooner so it would have given the VA more time to address these claims and reduce the backlog.
Romney said it was wrong to make veterans wait too long for health care and associated those waits with the increase in the suicide rate amongst veterans. He said if the wait for medical care drew too long, he would allow veterans to seek medical providers outside the VA and then have the VA pay the bill.
"Any time a veteran is unable to receive timely health care from the VA system, he or she will be allowed to see a Tricare provider at the VA's expense," Romney said.
The Republican did not say how long a veteran would have to wait before seeking an outside provider and he didn't specify how long a veteran might have to wait for a check from the VA to cover the doctor's visit.