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Obama hails veterans, pledges continued support

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U.S. President Barack Obama applauds for military veterans during a Veterans Day observance at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, November 11, 2012. 
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Barack Obama applauds for military veterans during a Veterans Day observance at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, November 11, 2012. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Samson Reiny

ARLINGTON, Virginia (Reuters) - President Barack Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to mark the Veterans Day holiday on Sunday, declaring that soldiers' needs would be met even as the country winds down wars in the Middle East and Asia.

In the ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, Obama pledged continuing support for veterans as they make the transition to civilian life.

"This is the first Veterans Day in a decade in which there are no American troops fighting and dying in Iraq," the president said at the cemetery across the Potomac River from Washington, where soldiers' graves are marked with row upon row of simple white stones.

"After a decade of war, our heroes are coming home," he said. "Over the next few years more than a million service members will transition back to civilian life."

The president touted the work of first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, for their work in the Joining Forces campaign, which urges businesses to hire veterans. He also reaffirmed his commitment to continuing the post-9/11 GI Bill program, which provides college education funding for those who have served, and said soldiers suffering war-related health problems will get the care they need.

"No one who fights for this country overseas should ever have to fight for a job, or a roof over their head, or the care that they have earned when they come home," he said.

After the ceremony, Obama visited with people in an area of the cemetery known as Section 60, where many of the solders who died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are buried.

The Democratic president won re-election to a second four-year term on Tuesday and now faces tough negotiations with Republican congressional leaders to avoid sharp spending cuts that loom at the end of the year. A big chunk of those reductions would come through a decline in defense spending.

During the campaign, Obama and Biden regularly pledged their commitment to bringing troops home from Afghanistan and taking care of American veterans. Obama criticized his opponent, Republican Mitt Romney, for failing to mention the war in Afghanistan during his speech to the Republican National Convention.

(Reporting by Samson Reiny, writing by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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