Obama lays wreath in Arlington, honors veterans’ sacrifice

President Obama observed Veterans Day on Sunday by placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery and promising the post-9/11 generation of veterans and their families that America will care for them “as long as they walk this earth.”

On the first Veterans Day since combat operations ended in Iraq, Mr. Obama said the generation of warriors who served in the past decade has “stepped into history, writing one of the greatest chapters of military service our country has ever known.”

“You toppled a dictator, and battled an insurgency in Iraq,” Mr. Obama said at Arlington. “You pushed back the Taliban, and decimated al Qaeda in Afghanistan. You delivered justice to Osama bin Laden. Tour after tour, year after year, you and your families have done all that this country has asked.”

There are more than 22 million veterans in the U.S., including more than 1.5 million who served in the combat theaters of Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa. Since 9/11, nearly 3 million veterans have retired from active duty.

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ budget has increased about 40 percent since 2009, and more than 800,000 veterans have been added to the VA’s health care rolls, said VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki. Also, 33,000 troops have returned from Afghanistan, with the remainder of U.S. forces there to be brought home by the end of 2014.

Finding jobs in the weak economy continues to be a challenge for veterans, in spite of an Obama administration program that has encouraged businesses to provide training or employment for 125,000 veterans and their spouses. About 900,000 veterans are unemployed, and an estimated 60,000 veterans are homeless.

The swelling of veterans rolls has added to the country’s duty to provide them with employment, health care services, tuition and other benefits, Mr. Obama said.

“No one who fights for this country overseas should ever have to fight for a job, or a roof over their head, or the care they have earned when they come home,” the president said, calling employment for veterans the nation’s “most urgent task.”

“After a decade of war, our heroes are coming home,” Mr. Obama said. “And over the next few years, more than 1 million service members will transition back to civilian life. As they come home, it falls to us, their fellow citizens, to be there for them and for their families. Not just for the first few years, but for as long as they walk this earth.”

He also pledged to reduce the backlog of claims at the VA for veterans benefits and services.

“We won’t let up,” the president said.

Around the nation, Americans marked Veterans Day in a variety of ways — sometimes serious, sometimes frivolous, but always patriotic.

Storm-ravaged New York hosted the country’s largest Veterans Day parade on a 30-block route along Fifth Avenue. “This nation has a special obligation to take care of you,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter told the crowd.

In Los Angeles, as befits the nation’s movie capital, the two-day GI Film Festival Hollywood was launched over the weekend, highlighting the successes and sacrifices of American military personnel and the worldwide struggle for democracy, festival co-founder Brandon Millett told The Associated Press.

The festival showcased eight features shown at Mr. Millett’s annual GI Film Festival in Washington, D.C., and debuted short films made by filmmakers who are veterans.

• This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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