News   Observances

Biden Pays Homage to Service Members in Veterans Day Speech

Nov. 11, 2021 | BY Terri Moon Cronk , DOD News

U.S. military veterans represent the best of the nation and "the very spine of America," President Joe Biden said today at a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

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"Today, we pay homage to the unrelenting bravery and dedication that distinguish all of those who have earned the title of American veteran," the president said. "It's an honor that not only a small percentage of Americans can claim, [but] one that marks those who are able to claim it as brothers and sisters. It's a badge of courage that unites across all ages, regardless of background, because to be a veteran is to survive challenges most Americans will never know."

The president said each veteran is a link in a proud chain of patriots who have stood in defense of the United States, and Americans owe a debt of gratitude to them.

"[On] this Veterans Day and every day, we honor that great debt and recommit ourselves to keeping our sacred obligation as a nation to honor what you've done. ... We have many obligations, [but] one truly sacred obligation is to properly prepare and equip those who we send into harm's way and care for them and their families while they're deployed and when they return home," he said. "This is a lifetime, sacred commitment. It never expires." 

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Biden said that, for two decades, the lives of U.S. service members, veterans and their families have been shaped by the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since Sept. 11, 2001, when the United States was attacked by terrorists, hundreds of thousands of Americans have served, and many are still serving today in harm's way, and we cannot forget them, he said. 

The numbers of those killed or wounded in action in those 20 years of war represent the costs of war we'll carry as a nation for decades to come, the president said. 

Addressing veterans, service members, families, caregivers and survivors, Biden said, "[Our] administration is going to meet the sacred obligation that we owe you. We're going to work with Congress — Republicans and Democrats together — to make sure our veterans receive the world-class benefits they've earned and meet the sacred, specific care and specific needs they each individually need." 

DOD officials and guests render honors during Taps at Arlington National Cemetery.
Veterans Day
From right to left: Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, Hollyanne Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, render honors during the playing of taps at a wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate Veterans Day and mark the centennial anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Nov. 11, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Jack Sanders, DOD
VIRIN: 211111-D-XI929-1010

Biden said that means expanding presumptive conditions for toxic exposure and particulate matter, including Agent Orange and burn pits. "We're going to keep pushing … to be more nimble and responsive, reviewing all the data and evidence to determine additional presumptive conditions that make sure our veterans don't have to wait to get the care they need. It also means prioritizing mental health care that's necessary to treat the invisible wounds that so many of our veterans carry, including pursuing our newly released comprehensive public health strategy to reduce military veteran suicides." 

Biden urged veterans who are struggling with mental health issues to reach out and call the Veterans Crisis Line at: 1-800-273-8255, press 1.

The president said his administration is also making sure the growing population of women and LGBTQ+ veterans receive appropriate services and support. 

A man stands with his hand on a wreath.
Veterans Day
President Joe Biden places a wreath during a ceremony to commemorate Veterans Day and mark the centennial anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Nov. 11, 2021.
Photo By: Air Force Staff Sgt. Jack Sanders, DOD
VIRIN: 211111-D-XI929-1011

As efforts continue to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic, Biden said his "Build Back Better" initiative also means keeping the needs of veterans front and center. To that end, the American Rescue Plan includes $17 billion to support the Department of Veterans Affairs' COVID-19 vaccination program and fund programs that provide rapid retraining assistance for veterans who lost their jobs during the pandemic. There are also funds for housing assistance, debt forgiveness and improvements to VA facilities and the living conditions of vulnerable veterans, the president said.

This Veterans Day also marks the centennial of one of the most hallowed American monuments: the Tomb of the Unknown, Biden said.

"One-hundred years ago today, an American soldier of the First World War … completed the voyage from an unidentified battlefield in France, over the rough Atlantic seas, here to Arlington National Cemetery. He lay and stayed under the Capitol rotunda for two days, on the same [structure] that held the body of [President Abraham Lincoln] as 90,000 Americans came to pay respects. On the final leg of his journey, he was escorted from the Capitol by the president of the United States, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, members of Congress, [Army Gen. John J. Pershing], the chiefs of staff and Medal of Honor recipients all walking, as The Washington Post said, 'processing without parallel' to give honor due to American servicemen — not just anonymous souls entombed in gleaming marble, but the generations of Americans who dared all, risked all, gave all, to the cause of freedom," he said.

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Today, 100 years later, we keep a sacred watch over their graves, the president said. "Generations of elite sentinels have taken the pledge of their eternal vigilance. We lay wreaths and renew our oath. We stand in solemn awe of such fidelity because, for us to keep faith in American veterans, we must never forget exactly what was given us; what each of them was willing to put on the line for us," Biden said. 

"We must never forget it is the mighty arm of the American warrior — never bending, never breaking, never yielding — generation after generation that secured for us the blessings of a nation that still stands today as the beacon of liberty, democracy and justice around the world," Biden said.