President Barack Obama says Americans who served abroad in Iraq and Afghanistan should always be able to rely on a robust system of support from the government.
In his speech Sunday at a solemn ceremony in Arlington National Cemetery, Obama noted it was the first Veterans Day in 10 years that no Americans were serving in Iraq, and pointed to the diminishing U.S. presence in Afghanistan.
"After a decade of war, our heroes are coming home," Obama said to applause at the Memorial Amphitheater.
Those heroes deserve efficient care for the physical and psychological scars inflicted by war, the president said, adding that the current backlog of disability claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs was being addressed by members of his administration.
"If you find yourself struggling with the wounds of war -- such as post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries -- we'll be there... with the care and treatment you need. No veteran should have to wait months or years for the benefits that you've earned, so we will continue to attack the claims backlog. We won't let up. We will not let up," Obama vowed.
In 2012, the VA says it will process 1 million disability claims, though it's currently sorting through a backlog of 860,000 claims from American veterans. More than a quarter of those vets -- 228,000 -- have been waiting for a year or more.
Before he spoke, Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. After his remarks at the Memorial Ampitheater, he met with military families in Section 60 of the cemetery, where veterans of the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried. Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill joined Obama and the first lady.
The president acknowledged in his speech that such expressions of gratitude alone weren't adequate for veterans and their families.
"No ceremony or parade, no hug or handshake is enough to truly honor that service. For that, we must do more. For that, we must commit -- this day and every day -- to serving you as well as you've served us," Obama said, saying that helping military members transition back to civilian life was a priority for him and his team.
"Over the next few years, more than a million service members will transition back to civilian life," Obama said. "They'll take off their uniforms and take on a new and lasting role. They will be veterans. As they come home, it falls to us, their fellow citizens, to be there for them and their families -- not just now but always; not just for the first few years, but for as long as they walk this earth."