President Bush is vowing strong action to improve U.S. government health care services for military veterans. The pledge came in a speech to the annual convention of one of the oldest and largest veterans' groups in the country: the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

They rose to their feet as the President entered the room. Their hair is streaked with gray now and their faces are lined. But the aging veterans stood and applauded with the zeal of young soldiers.

The President responded with praise. "Each one of you is a living example of a special kind of patriotism: the love of country expressed not just in words, but in lifetimes of service," Mr. Bush said.

Most of the almost two million members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars fought on the battlefields of World War II, Korea and Vietnam. They are entitled to government subsidized health care at special medical facilities. But as the pool of elderly veterans has grown larger, strains have developed in the system. President Bush acknowledged America's obligations to those who served in the military have not been met.

"Many veterans have observed that the government seemed to work a lot more efficiently when it wanted something from them," he said. "When the draft board got your file, it worked efficiently. But now, when you need health care, forms get lost and answers come late. That is no way to treat America's veterans and that is going to change."

Mr. Bush's speech, as expected, touched on many themes of interest to the organization. There were references to patriotism, the sanctity of the American flag, and the construction of a World War II Memorial in Washington. Throughout the address, the President stressed his commitment to those who served in the military in years gone by, and those who serve today.

He talked about his plans for the biggest increase in military spending since the 1980s when Ronald Reagan was president. He also mentioned that his campaign pledge to build a missile defense system is becoming a reality. "And something I offered last year as a promise is today a commitment: to research, develop and deploy a defense against ballistic missiles," the president said.

Mr. Bush first addressed the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars almost one year ago to the day as a candidate for President. He said it was a great honor to come to their 2001 convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as commander in chief.