ARLINGTON, Va. — President Joe Biden spoke Thursday morning to veterans and military families at Arlington National Cemetery for the annual national Veterans Day observance.

“To all our veterans, past and present, we thank you, we honor you and we remember always what you’ve done for us,” Biden said.

The president was joined by his wife, First lady Jill Biden, and military leaders — including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Army Gen. Mark Milley. chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

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 at Arlington.

“There’s nothing low risk or low cost about war for the women and men who fight it,” said Biden, whose administration earlier in the day, 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. Federal officials plan to start by examining lung and breathing problems but say they will expand the effort as science identifies potential new connections.

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.

Earlier in the morning, the Bidens hosted veterans and members of the military community at the White House before departing to Arlington.

This also marks the first Veterans Day following the chaotic military withdrawal from Afghanistan in August. More than 2,400 U.S. troops died in that 20-year conflict. Including combat in Iraq, Syria and elswhere in the region, more than 7,000 U.S. troops have died in support of military operations since 9/11.

“From the beginning of our fight for independence at Lexington and Concord, to the end of the longest war in American history in Afghanistan, millions of veterans have risked their lives to preserve the democratic ideals of this great nation,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough.

McDonough was one of many speakers who addressed the crowd of military veterans, their families, caretakers, and other visitors.

“The freedoms we enjoy today were made by the more than 19 million living veterans and countless others who served in the defense of our country,” said Alan Paley, National Commander of the Jewish War Veterans. “The symbols of America and freedom are interlocked and they are present here today.”

Ahead of the speeches a joint full honors procession meant to replicate the elements of the initial 1921 funeral procession took place in concurrence with a joint service flyover with aircraft from all branches of the military.

During the week leading up to the federal holiday, the National Cemetery hosted a number of programs to honor the 100th anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier — including a rare opportunity for the public to walk along the Tomb’s plaza and pay their respects.

Biden and other speakers emphasized the need to respect and honor veterans, their families and caretakers not only on Veterans Day, but year round.

“I encourage each and everyone of you to pause for a moment today and thank a veteran, or a military family member, for their service and sacrifice,” said Karen Durham-Aguilera, Executive Director of the Office of Army Cemeteries.

This story contains information from The Associated Press.

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