ARLINGTON, Va. — President Barack Obama told America's veterans on 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 asserted the need to continue providing for America's veterans.
Thousands of people lined up at the cemetery on a sunny autumn morning to attend a wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns 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."
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 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.
The president said he would work to improve health care and to provide affordable care for those not covered by the VA. Hhe also pledged to reduce the 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, An African-American, Overton returned home to a nation divided by race, where his service on the battlefield did not mean he received the respect he deserved at home, the president said.
"This is how we'll be judged," Obama said, asking Overton to stand from his wheelchair and acknowledge the crowd's applause. "Not just by how well we care for our troops in battle, but how we treat them when they come home."