Biden salutes troops as ‘spine of America’ on Veterans Day

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden saluted the nation’s military veterans as "the spine of America" Thursday as he marked his first Veterans Day as president in a wreath-laying ceremony followed by at Arlington National Cemetery. In his remarks, Biden praised the generations who have served, declaring they’ve "endured and survived challenges most Americans will never know."

"You are the very spine of America," Biden said of the nation’s veterans, declaring that his administration will "meet the sacred obligation" the country owes to those who have served. “There’s nothing low risk or low cost about war for the women and men who fight it.”

Earlier in the day, the Biden administration announced a federal effort to better understand, identify and treat medical conditions suffered by troops deployed to toxic environments.

That expanded effort centers on lung problems suffered by troops who breathe in toxins and the potential connection between rare cancers and time spent overseas breathing poor air, according to the White House.

Biden’s son, Beau, served in Iraq, and the president has suggested a potential link between Beau’s death from an aggressive brain cancer and his exposure to toxins in the air, particularly around massive pits where the military disposes of waste by burning. There’s no scientific evidence to establish that link.

The new federal effort is also designed to make it easier for veterans to make claims based on their symptoms, to collect more data from troops who are suffering and to give veterans more time to make medical claims after symptoms such as asthma and sinus problems develop.

This year’s Veterans Day commemoration comes just two months after Biden ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, a chaotic ending to America’s longest war where 2,461 American service members were killed over the nearly 20-year conflict.