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Biden visits Arlington National Cemetery on first Veterans Day since Afghanistan withdrawal

Thursday marks the first Veterans Day in 20 years that the U.S. has not been at war.

President Joe Biden participated in a ceremony Thursday at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, marking the first Veterans Day in 20 years that the U.S. has not been at war.

Speaking to over 600 people at the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, Biden said veterans have "endured challenges most Americans will never know" and vowed to work with Congress to make sure veterans get the "world-class benefits that they have earned."

Biden said ensuring that veterans have health benefits, including mental health care, is among his top priorities. He urged veterans who may be struggling to "reach out" and said he would work to reduce military and veteran suicides.

The Biden administration was also expected to announce a series of steps Thursday to help veterans who were exposed to burn pits and other contaminants while serving overseas. Biden has said he believes his son Beau died of cancer that was linked to exposure to burn pits during his deployment to Iraq, and in his speech Thursday he said the government needed to be more "nimble" in responding to those exposed to burn pits and Agent Orange.

"On Veterans Day, we have to always remember there's nothing low-risk or low-cost about war," he said.

Ahead of his remarks, Biden participated in a smaller wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with administration officials and veterans and their families.

Thursday marked 100 years since the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was established at Arlington National Cemetery after the remains of an unidentified soldier from World War I were exhumed from a military cemetery in France and flown to the U.S. President Warren G. Harding officiated at the ceremony on Nov. 11, 1921.

The tomb later received unknown soldiers from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, and it has come to be a symbolic representation of service and sacrifice.

"Our veterans represent the best of America. You are the very spine of America," Biden said. "All of us owe you."

Unknown Soldier Plaza, usually open only to the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, opened to the public Tuesday and Wednesday to allow people to pay their respects ahead of the 100th anniversary.

Biden met with veterans and members of the military community before he attended the ceremony.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who is traveling in France, visited the Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial outside Paris on Wednesday and met with U.S. service members.