President, VA secretary tout veterans’ sacrifices, pledge support

 
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McClatchy Washington Bureau

President Barack Obama told America’s veterans Monday that the country is indebted to them and he pledged to support them “now, tomorrow and forever.”

Speaking at a Veterans Day event at Arlington National Cemetery’s amphitheater, Obama and his secretary of veterans affairs asserted the need to continue providing for America’s veterans.

Thousands of people lined up at the cemetery on the sunny autumn morning to attend a wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and speeches at the amphitheater by Obama and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.

“They put on the uniform and they put their lives on the line,” Obama said. “They do this so that the rest of us might live in a country and a world that is safer, freer and more just.”

Americans gathered to march in parades or attend ceremonies across the country. Originally named Armistice Day by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919 _ because of the World War I cease-fire between the Allied nations and Germany at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month _ Veterans Day is set aside to thank those who’ve put their lives on the line.

Parades took place from coast to coast, including in New York and San Diego. Colorado State University held a 5-kilometer run and the Cal Veterans Group assembled volunteers to build a home for a veteran in California.

After a White House breakfast in honor of veterans, Obama placed the wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and addressed an audience of some 4,000 about the responsibility the country has to those who sacrificed their lives for it.

The president pledged to pay attention to the debts owed to veterans. “Even as we make difficult fiscal choices as a nation,” he said, “we’re going to keep making vital investments in our veterans.”

By this winter, only about 34,000 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan, Obama said. Next year, the transition to Afghan-led security should be complete, he added.

Shinseki noted that the budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs has increased by more than 50 percent, 2 million veterans have been added to the VA’s health care system and there have been reductions in veteran homelessness.

The president said he’d work to improve health care and to provide affordable care for those not covered by the VA; he also pledged to reduce the mammoth backlog in disability claims so veterans can receive their benefits promptly.

“We’re going to keep fighting to give every veteran who has fought for America the chance to pursue the American dream,” he said.

He singled out Richard Overton, a 107-year-old native of Austin, Texas, who fought in the Army during World War II.

Overton was at Pearl Harbor, Okinawa and Iwo Jima, Obama said. When he returned to Texas, he built a home, where he still resides. He worked in the furniture business and went on to serve as a courier in the state Capitol.

“This is the life of one American veteran, living proud and strong in the land he helped keep free,” the president said.

Added Shinseki: “Veterans Day is not just a one-day-a-year event. It’s an abiding commitment every day of every year.”

Email: mfaddoul@mcclatchydc.com

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