Audacious how Vice President Richard Cheney told disabled veterans in Reno that the Bush administration is “working every day to improve the level of service we give disabled veterans.”

Applause, applause.

Sly move. Cheney addressed the 83rd National Convention of the Disabled American Veterans Saturday. The VP’s talk stole headlines, effectively burying the truth regarding BushCo’s shortchanging of vets.

At the Disabled American Veterans site, www.dav.org, an interview with Bush and John Kerry better described respective positions on health care, pensions and survivor benefits for veterans’ spouses.

Bush didn’t shine.

The DAV began by stating that the current system for funding veterans’ health care is “broken.”

“The needs of our nation’s sick and disabled veterans have not been adequately met for many years,” said the DAV interviewer, citing funding shortfalls, rising costs of care and increased demand.

Bush responded by bragging about VA spending increases in his 2005 budget. Could that be the same budget that Veterans of Foreign Wars commander Edward Banas called “deplorable,” “inadequate,” “a disgrace” and “a sham"?

The budget, Banas complained, fell billions short of what’s needed to fully fund veterans’ health care. (More at VFW.org.)

Kerry’s Senate record included co-sponsorship of mandatory funding of veterans’ health benefits.

In Reno, Cheney said with a straight face: “As we’ve increased VA budgets, we’ve focused resources on the veterans who need it most—those with service-related disabilities, low incomes and special needs.”

And then lightning struck, and Cheney was vaporized. Or not.

Disabled veterans got the short end of the stick on retirement. Here’s the bugger: The Disabled Veterans Tax won’t allow a retiring vet to collect both pension and disability pay at the same time. Retirees must give up a dollar of pension for each dollar in disability pay. Republicans balked at getting rid of this tax, opting instead for the 10-year phasing in of concurrent benefits—for about a third of disabled retirees.

Kerry called this “unjust.” He supports Sen. Harry Reid’s legislation to eliminate the 10-year phase-in period for concurrent benefits and would like to give all 400,000 disabled vets their due.

“We must eliminate this phase-in period for all military retirees…” Kerry said. “It is estimated that 1,000 World War II veterans die every day. How can we ask these brave Americans to wait another decade for a benefit that should have been theirs yesterday?”

Finally, on taking care of vets’ families, Cheney quoted President Lincoln’s pledge to “care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.”

“President Bush takes that pledge very seriously,” Cheney said. “And he is honoring it.”

Sure. That’s why Republicans opposed ending the Survivor Benefit Penalty, aka the Widow’s Tax. Many military retirees expect that, after their deaths, spouses will receive 55 percent of their benefits. But when the spouse reaches age 62, the benefit drops to 35 percent—whether or not the surviving spouse is eligible for Social Security. Kerry’s record is clear on survivor benefits: Widow’s Tax be gone.

To sum: Kerry supports vets who might need health care, pensions or survivor benefits. Bush doesn’t have a clue.

If Bush is reelected (or if the election is postponed because of terrorist attack), things will get even worse. An early draft of the 2006 budget, revealed by The Washington Post this summer, cuts the VA’s budget by $900 million.

To be fair, Bush made one telling improvement for vets.

To the DAV, Bush said: "I have … overseen the largest expansion of the national cemetery system since the Civil War in order to honor veterans with a hallowed, final resting place."