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Dropping by an American Legion ball honoring nearly 30 Medal of Honor recipients on Monday, Vice President Joe Biden pledged continued support for veterans, singling out those who will need medical care for the rest of their lives.
Accompanied by wife Dr. Jill Biden, his children and their spouses, Biden said he was humbled to be in a room full of distinguished guests, calling the current generation of service members "the finest warriors the world has ever seen" and adding that the government will not scrimp on supporting them.
"The entire country owes you. Where your service ends, as citizens, our obligation begins," Biden said.
Biden's address preceded his attendance at the two official inaugural balls in Washington on Monday: the Commander in Chief's Ball, an event for service members and their families, wounded warriors and civilian guests, and the Inaugural Ball.
Biden told the 800 attendees at the American Legion Salute the Heroes Ball that the government has an obligation to assist the "elderly and the young" but it only has one "truly sacred obligation" — "to equip those who we send to war and care for them and their families when they come home from war."
"There are … 17,000 critically injured, [who will] need the most advanced medical care the rest of their lives ... we will remember how long this obligation extends," he said.
Attending the ball were 28 Medal of Honor recipients, including two World War II veterans, former Army Staff Sgt. Walter Ehlers and former Marine Cpl. Hershel Williams; Korean War and Vietnam war honorees; and two Iraq and Afghanistan recipients, retired Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta and Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry.
The Salute to Heroes ball, which dates from 1953, had been attended by every president until 2009, when President Obama declined an invitation, citing his obligation to attend 10 official balls.
Administration officials have said that Medal of Honor recipients also are invited to the Commander in Chief's Ball, a tradition started by President George W. Bush in 2005.
Biden attended the Salute to Heroes ball in 2009 as well as the Commander in Chief's Ball.
Also addressing the guests on Monday were Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., House Veterans' Affairs Committee chairman and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who pledged congressional support for veterans despite the current bleak economic and political climate in Washington.