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WASHINGTON - The federal government should strengthen the health care system for veterans, retired Marine Gen. Joseph P. Hoar said Saturday in the Democratic Party's weekly radio address.

Speaking on the Veterans Day weekend, the former U.S. military commander in the Middle East said " President Bush has consistently refused to provide enough" money for veterans' health care.

"Earlier this year, his administration admitted that they were $1 billion short in funding for critical health care services," he said. "They also repeatedly tried to increase the cost of prescription drugs and health care services for veterans nationwide."

The Veterans Affairs Department acknowledged in April that it had underestimated medical care costs. Congress reacted by approving an additional $1.5 billion in emergency funds for the current budget year.

Hoar also said, "Thousands of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will require mental health care, yet the Bush administration has not taken action to deal with this emerging problem."

In contrast, Democrats are working to improve the current health care system and strengthen mental health care services, he said.

"As a veteran and a former commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, I have seen first hand the kind of sacrifices they are making for us. It's a debt we will never be able to repay," he said. "But we have a special duty to make sure our veterans receive the benefits they have earned and deserve when they return home."
 
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