By Julian Hattem - 05/26/14 12:27 PM EDT
The United States "must do more” to care for veterans and the families of American service members killed while performing their duties, President Obama said on Monday.
In remarks at Arlington National Cemetery, Obama briefly addressed the growing crisis at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which has roiled his administration in recent weeks.
“We rededicate ourselves to our sacred obligations to all who wear America’s uniform,” he said.
“These Americans have done their duty. They ask nothing more than our nation does ours for now and for the decades to come," he said
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki was among those in attendance for Obama’s remarks at the historic Virginia cemetery. Officials on both sides of the aisles have called for Shinseki to resign over the scandal.
Revelations have grown about the VA's mismanagement, which may have caused dozens of veterans to die after being placed on secret waiting lists before receiving care.
After placing a wreath at the iconic Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Obama praised members of the armed services who had died while serving under the American flag.
“Everything that we hold precious in this country was made possible by Americans who gave their all,” he said. “Because of them our nation was stronger, safer and will always remain a shining beacon of freedom to the rest of the world.”
He told stories of three girls struggling to make a life after their father was killed in Afghanistan, as well as a man killed in World War II whose wife never remarried and mother left in anguish after her son was killed in Afghanistan.
“This day and this place are solemn reminders of the extraordinary sacrifices they have made in the name of this nation,” Obama said.
Monday’s holiday comes on the 150th anniversary of the founding of Arlington National Cemetery. The site, formerly owned by the family of confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, became a cemetery for U.S. troops with the burial of Private William Christman in May 1864.
It is set to be the last Memorial Day honored by a president during the war in Afghanistan. The war, which has stretched for over a decade to be the longest in America’s history, is set to formally end at the end of the year, though the U.S. is likely to leave forces behind to assist the Afghan government.
Obama visited Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan over the weekend and returned to Washington just hours before the Memorial Day services.
He was joined on Monday by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.
“Memorial Day gives us, the living, the chance to bow our heads to honor our fallen heroes,” Dempsey said, before adding that "it is incumbent on us also to look forward."
“America’s sons and daughters are out there still today on the frontiers of our common defense ... In the footsteps of generations before, they marshal the day with courage and with commitment to make a difference for each other, for us and for people they’ve never even met but with whom they share a dream of a common future," he said.