Veterans ‘best of America,’ Harris says in laying wreath

Veterans Day Harris

Vice President Kamala Harris lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Friday. Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Under gray clouds and torrential rain at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday, Vice President Kamala Harris told the nation’s veterans their work makes America stronger as the administration announced new support for children living with wounded soldiers.

“Through your life’s work and example, you make America stronger every day,” she told the crowd. “On Veterans Day we come together to express our deep gratitude for all you have done and continue to do.”

“Veterans represent the best of America,” she said.

The initiative, known as the Hidden Helpers Coalition, helps young people serve as caregivers and was announced by First Lady Jill Biden, who hosted a breakfast for veterans Friday before she, Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff arrived for the annual ceremony in Virginia -Cemetery.

With President Biden in Egypt for a United Nations climate conference, it was Harris who laid the wreath in a somber ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, dedicated to deceased soldiers whose remains have not been identified. She arranged it carefully, fumbling with the ribbons to put them back in place after the wind and rain had blown them askew.

Harris said the nation owes soldiers a huge debt and the Biden administration is working to provide assistance with housing, health care and jobs. Noting Jill Biden’s work with veterans’ families, she said, “While our veterans wore the uniform, they weren’t the only ones who served.”

“As Americans, we have a sacred duty to care for our veterans and our military families,” she said. “Meeting that commitment requires ensuring veterans have access to the support and resources they need to thrive.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, himself a veteran, joined the group.

This is the first Veterans Day since Biden signed legislation expanding health care coverage for service members who have been exposed to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan or chemicals used in previous conflicts.

Legislation known as the PACT Act was a priority for Biden. His eldest son, Beau Biden, died of brain cancer in 2015, several years after being exposed to a burn pit while serving in Iraq.

From Egypt, Biden paid tribute to the sacrifices made by American veterans there.

“This day is a memorial day back home in the United States. It’s Veterans Day,” he said. “America’s veterans and their families, survivors and caregivers are the backbone and soul of the United States. And on this special day, every day, I honor all those who, like my son, sacrifice themselves for our nation.”

More than 137,000 toxic exposure claims have been filed, according to the Biden administration. The Department of Veterans Affairs also began interviewing veterans about possible toxic exposure earlier this week to identify health complications.

The Democratic President also released a video message before leaving for Egypt on Thursday evening. He also has stints in Cambodia and Indonesia before returning to the White House for his granddaughter’s wedding on November 19.

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