Key Issues, Prominent Speakers Featured at Convention

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The 112th National Convention in San Antonio attracted presidential hopefuls and witnessed the making of organizational changes.

Discussion of eight VA-related benefits and services highlighted the gathering of VFW members. With younger veterans being discharged in ever-increasing numbers, caring for their needs took center stage.

Deputy Secretary Scott Gould extolled the five core values pursued by VA - integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect and excellence. In fulfilling ICARE (the acronym used to encompass these values), he outlined the areas in which VA has progressed:

Access to VA Services: Enrolled 800,000 veterans - a 10% increase - in the last two years.

Women Veterans: Expanded primary health care programs, increased the number of women VA managers, broadened research and enhanced the marketing presence of women.

Agent Orange Compensation: Disbursed $2.2 billion to 89,000 Vietnam veterans and their survivors - who filed claims related to one of three new presumptive conditions - in disability payments in the past two years.

Homelessness: Pledged to decrease the number of homeless veterans to 60,000 by 2012. Furthermore, the agency says it will end homelessness among veterans by 2015.

Claims Backlog: Promised to fully automate VA1S eleeironie processing system during 2012 and break the claims backlog by 2015.

GI Bill: Enabled 518,000 veterans and family members to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill As of Oct. 1, veterans can now avail themselves of vocational training under the Bill.

Employment: Promoted veteranowned small businesses, tax credits for companies that hire veterans and especially disabled veterans, and urged the private sector to do its part. Gould said one-third of the VA workforce is composed of veterans.

Customer Service: Implemented new approaches and best practices to better serve veterans in the future.

Gould re-emphasized the core values, saying, "We will be rigorous in our stewardship of VA services."

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (RTexas) also weighed in on VA issues. Hutchison reiterated her pro-veteran stance. "I will not stand for cutting any of our military or veterans benefits that they've earned," she said. "If there is anything in America we can do, it's keeping our promises to them."

Hutchison, who has introduced legislation to protect military funerals, noted the 10th anniversary of the Afghanistan War. She said that 970,000 troops have deployed more than once to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Referring to vets of earlier wars and complimenting VFW members, she said, "They are standing on the shoulders of giants."

Presidential Candidates Tackle Foreign Policy

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who announced his candidacy for President in August, offered a glimpse or what his foreign policy would be like. "We should only risk shedding American blood and spending American treasure when our vital interests are threatened," said Perry, who served as a C- 130 pilot in the Air Force from 1972-77. "A President should never send our sons and daughters into war without a plan to win, and the resources to make that possible."

Reflecting on the 10th anniversary of the Afghanistan War, the governor said it's time to renew the commitment to take the fight to the enemy before the nation is attacked at home.

He further dismissed international coalitions as "multilateral debating societies," saying GIs should always be led by American commanders.

Perry used his VFW appearance to announce a new program to be run by the Texas Veterans Commission called Housing for Heroes, which provides $3 million to help Texas veterans with rent, renovations and home building.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney had his say on foreign policy matters as well. Proclaiming that he "will not apologize for America," Romney said that the world is becoming more hostile and America must lead with "unlimited resolve. …