Overnight Defense

Defense & National Security — Biden marks Veterans Day

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President Biden and other administration officials were at Arlington National Cemetery to pay their respects in honor of Veterans Day.

We’ll share details of the event plus the administration’s recent effort to expand health care for vets exposed to burn pits and growing fears over Russia. 

For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. Write to me with tips: emitchell@digital-stage.thehill.com.

Let’s get to it.

 

Biden pays tribute at Arlington Cemetery 

President Biden, Sec. of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough and Major General Allan Pepin participate in a wreath-laying ceremony on the 100th anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., on Veterans Day.

Biden on Thursday paid tribute to the nation’s veterans, praising them as the “backbone” of America in a speech at Arlington National Ceremony to mark Veterans Day. 

“Each of our veterans is a link in a proud chain of patriots that has stood in the defense of our country from Bunker Hill to Belleau Wood, Gettysburg to Iwo Jima, Chosin Reservoir to Kunar Valley,” Biden said in a speech at the National Veterans Day Observance at the cemetery just outside Washington. 

“Each understood the price of freedom and each shouldered that burden on our behalf. Veterans represent the best of America. You are the very spine of America, not just the backbone, you’re the spine of this country and all of us — all of us — owe you,” he said

A personal day: Biden’s remarks were personal as he reflected on the recent loss of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Gen. Ray Odierno and former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland (D), all of whom were veterans. He also invoked his late son, Beau Biden, who served in the Delaware Army National Guard.

As he often does to mark lives lost due to war or the coronavirus pandemic, Biden pulled out his schedule from his jacket pocket and read off that 53,323 service members have been wounded in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and 7,074 died.

Commitments: Biden said that his administration was committed to working with Congress to ensure veterans receive the “world-class benefits” they deserve, from care for exposure to burn pits and agent orange to mental health support.

The White House earlier Thursday released a plan to assist military members exposed to contaminants and environmental hazards on the battlefield, as part of an effort to mark the holiday. And earlier this month, the White House announced a new plan to prevent suicides by firearms with a focus on those in the military and veterans.

A first: Thursday was Biden’s first time marking Veterans Day as president. The White House public schedule was light due to the federal holiday, with a handful of events in the morning to honor those who have served the nation.

Biden hosted veterans and service members at the White House Thursday morning, before attending the wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery to mark the centennial anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Open to the public: The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier opened for two days, on Tuesday and Wednesday, for the first time in 96 years for members of the public to walk up to and lay flowers. During the ceremony on Thursday, the tomb was surrounded by flowers.

The tomb is a symbolic grave for unidentified and not located American soldiers and was first used in 1921 after Congress approved the burial of an unidentified service member from World War I. 

Read more of that story here.

 

White House expanding health care for vets

The Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters is seen in Washington, D.C., on June 3

The White House on Thursday marked Veterans Day by announcing expanded health care resources for individuals exposed to burn pits and other environmental hazards during their time in the military.

A personal issue: Assistance for those exposed to burn pits has been a personal issue for President Biden, who has on multiple occasions spoken about how he believes his son Beau Biden’s exposure to them may have been linked to the brain cancer that killed him in 2015.

What’s being done: The White House in a fact sheet outlined a series of steps being taken to aid those who have been exposed to burn pits or other contaminants while serving. The administration said the Department of Veterans Affairs would develop a testing model to better understand whether veterans have developed certain health problems as a result of exposure to environmental hazards.

A new model: In August, the VA began processing disability claims for asthma, rhinitis and sinusitis based on presumed exposure to particulate matter. Those who served in Southwest Asia and other areas who developed those conditions within 10 years of their service can now apply for disability benefits and VA provided health care.

The VA will also apply a new model to reviewing evidence of whether there is a connection between exposure to environmental hazards during military service and the development of respiratory cancers and constrictive bronchiolitis.

Other steps: Among the other steps being taken includes efforts to raise awareness of VA benefits for veterans who have developed health risks or conditions related to exposure to burn pits or other hazards. The agency plans to host Q&A sessions about the new disability eligibility and release new public service announcements.

“The Administration will continue to prioritize efforts to support veterans who were exposed to environmental hazards during their military service,” the White House said. “At the same time, the Administration will work with Congress on its encouraging ongoing efforts to ensure we are able to quickly and fairly recognize additional presumptions of service-connected disabilities, in order to live up to our sacred obligation to provide veterans the care they have earned.”

Read the full story here.

Russia may ‘move further’ into country: Kuleba 

Ukraine’s top diplomat warned Thursday that Russia may be looking to “move further” into the country amid increasing tensions in the region.

Remaining vigilant: “We do not want to scare anyone, but we have to remain vigilant,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told ABC News in an interview. 

“We are extremely worried, but listen — when you live next to Russia for seven years in an armed conflict, you kind of learn to be worried. You get used to it,” Kuleba continued.

An unclear intent: About 90,000 Russian troops are stationed near the border after completing military drills, the Ukrainian defense ministry said earlier this month.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday that the U.S. continues to see unusual military activity both inside Russia and near Ukraine’s borders, though it isn’t clear what Russia’s intentions are.

Past aggressions: Moscow has supported a separatist insurgency in Ukraine’s east since it annexed Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in 2014. Over 140,000 people have died in related fighting.

Russia has denied it has troops in eastern Ukraine but sparked concerns in April after it amassed a large number of troops near the border. While troops left the following month, Kuleba told ABC that the infrastructure and equipment are still at the border.

Read the rest of the story here.

 

US begins joint naval drill with Israel, UAE, Bahrain 

The United States began its first joint naval drill with Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain on Wednesday.    

The U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) said in a statement that the drill will “enhance interoperability between participating forces’ maritime interdiction teams.”

The details: Forces participating in the five-day “multilateral maritime security operations exercise” will train in visit, board, search and seizure tactics aboard the amphibious transport dock ship USS Portland, NAVCENT said.

Pushing back: An Israeli naval officer said in a briefing to reporters in Israel that U.S.-led military cooperation between the countries could help push back on recent regional “power projection” by Iran, Reuters reported.

Earlier: Last year Israel, Bahrain and the UAE all signed onto the Abraham Accords, a historic agreement which was brokered by former President Trump’s administration in an effort to normalize relations in the region. Since last year, Morocco and Sudan have also signed on to the agreement.  

Read the full story here.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

 

That’s it for today. Check out The Hill’s defense and national security pages for the latest coverage. See you Friday.

Tags Colin Powell Denis McDonough Donald Trump Joe Biden John Kirby

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