By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Nov. 11, 2022) -- Since the founding of the United States, service members have defended the nation. In return, the nation has an obligation to take care of those same veterans, the vice president of the United States said during a Veterans Day address at Arlington National Cemetery.
"Since 1789, American service members have sworn an oath, not to a person, not to a party but to the Constitution of the United States, to support and defend the principles of liberty, equality and justice -- to preserve and protect our democracy," Kamala Harris said.
In order to serve the nation, Harris said, those veterans had to leave their loved ones, often missing birthdays, holidays and graduations. Some even missed the birth of their children.
"You risked everything and you gave up so much to safeguard the lives and the liberty of people who you may never meet," she said. "To be a veteran is to have truly known the true cost of freedom and to have borne it for all of us. That is a debt that must always be remembered."
Today, Harris said, Americans owe a debt to military veterans, a responsibility to ensure they are taken care of and that the wounds of war that were inflicted upon them as they did the nation's work are tended to, both while they wore the uniform and after as well.
"I'm proud to serve alongside one of the greatest, greatest champions of our nation's warriors, our president, Joe Biden," Harris said. "President Biden and I believe that as Americans, we have a sacred obligation to take care of our veterans and our military families. Fulfilling that obligation means making sure veterans can access the support and the resources they need to thrive."
One example of that, Harris said, is finding ways to ensure veterans can find work after their military service ends.
"It has meant connecting thousands of veterans with job training to help them leverage the skills and experience they gained while serving, to build a new career and to strengthen America's workforce," she said.
For veterans who fall on hard times, the homeless, they too must be taken care of, Harris said.
"This year alone we have placed 31,000 veterans in permanent housing and we are on track to house thousands more by year end," she said.
Even the families of veterans are owed a debt, Harris said. While service members deployed to foreign nations, spouses and children stayed at home -- wondering if their husbands, wives, fathers or mothers might ever come home again.
"Taking care of our veterans also means taking care of those who love them," Harris said. "Because while our veterans wore the uniform, they were not the only ones who served. And no one understands that better than Dr. Jill Biden. Through her leadership of Joining Forces, Dr. Biden fights for military families, caregivers and survivors. And Dr. Biden, our nation applauds your extraordinary work."
The Department of Veterans Affairs plays an important role in providing veterans the service they need, Harris said. And that includes making sure those veterans receive the benefits they have earned.
"Since we took office, we have worked to reduce the VA claims backlog by upgrading technology, hiring more claims processors and streamlining evaluations. And as a result this year, and under the leadership of the secretary, we processed more VA claims than ever before in history," Harris said. "We also came together, Democrats and Republicans, to support millions of veterans exposed to toxic substances while working and living near burn pits and other dangerous environments."
The PACT Act, she said, a new law that expands VA health care and benefits for Veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange and other toxic substances, represents the most significant expansion of health care and benefits for veterans and their survivors in three decades.
"It was passed because of the leadership of our president and because of the leadership of so many of you," she said. "We are indebted to you for that hard work and success."
Even after wars conclude, and service members take off their uniforms and return to civilian life, they continue to serve, Harris said.
"Veterans, after all, are nurses and firefighters, little league coaches and small business owners, faith leaders and elected officials, mentors and teachers," she said. "Every day, through your life's work, and your example, you make America stronger. And on Veterans Day we come together as a nation, then, to express our profound gratitude for all you have done and continue to do."