WASHINGTON — President Biden on Wednesday signed into law a bill that expands medical advantages for veterans who were exposed to toxins from burning pits of trash on military bases, ending a yearslong quest for support by veterans and their families.
The problem is deeply personal for the president, who has long speculated that his son Beau developed brain cancer due to exposure to burn pits when he served in Iraq as a member of the Delaware National Guard. Before signing the laws, Mr. Biden described the lingering effects of the exposures.
“Toxic smoke, thick with poisons, spreading through the air and into the lungs of our troops,” he said. “After they got here home, lots of the fittest and best warriors that we sent to war weren’t the identical. Headaches, numbness, dizziness, cancer. My son, Beau, was one in every of them.”
In a ceremony full of veterans and their families within the East Room of the White House, Mr. Biden called the brand new law progress toward fulfilling “a sacred obligation” to those that defended the nation and their families. The law passed despite a last-minute delay by Republican senators, who blocked its passage but backed down after an intense backlash.
“That is essentially the most significant law our nation has ever passed to assist tens of millions of veterans who’re exposed to toxic substances during their military services,” Mr. Biden said, adding just a few minutes later: “This law is long overdue. We finally got it done, together.”
Burn Pits and Veterans’ Health
- A Bitter Struggle: U.S. service members have long insisted that the military’s garbage-disposal fires in war zones made them sick. For years, the federal government denied responsibility.
- Expanding Advantages: After a groundswell of pressure on Congress to act, a latest law will expand medical advantages for tens of millions of veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits on U.S. military bases.
- How the Bill Passed: The laws was approved by Congress despite a last-minute delay by Republican senators, who backed down after an intense backlash.
- A Supreme Court Ruling: In a recent 5-to-4 decision, the justices sided with an Army reservist injured by burn pits in Iraq who said he had been discriminated against by his employer, the state of Texas.
The laws addresses the results that some veterans have suffered after sleeping and dealing in proximity to large fires on military bases where trash — including tires, jet fuel, chemicals and other equipment — was burned, creating large clouds of smoke. Research suggests that toxins within the smoke could also be chargeable for a series of ailments suffered by veterans, including cancer, bronchial asthma, allergic rhinitis, sleep apnea, bronchitis and sinusitis.
The brand new law, referred to as the PACT Act, makes it easier for veterans who imagine they were exposed to toxins during their service to use for medical advantages from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The law creates a $280 billion stream of federal funding, making it one in every of the most important expansions of veterans advantages in American history.
In his remarks, Mr. Biden praised the various years of labor by relations and activists, singling out Jon Stewart, the comedian, for his impassioned and sometimes indignant demands that politicians pass the bill.
“What you’ve done, Jon, matters, and you recognize it does,” Mr. Biden said to Mr. Stewart, who was within the room for the signing ceremony. “You need to know. It really, really matters. You refused to let anybody forget. Refused to allow them to forget, and we owe you big, man.”
Mr. Stewart, who has been lobbying for the bill for years, was particularly vocal last month, when Republican senators abruptly refused to support the measure, citing concerns that it was structured in a way that might create a costly latest entitlement. The laws had passed with overwhelming bipartisan support within the House, and the Republican senators who objected had voiced their firm support only weeks earlier.
Appearing on CNN after the Republicans blocked the bill, Mr. Stewart was livid, helping to spur an intense response that led to the bill’s final passage days later.
“I’m used to lies. I’m used to hypocrisy. I’m used to their cowardice,” Mr. Stewart told Jake Tapper on CNN’s “The Lead” program. “I’m not used to the cruelty, the casual cruelty.”
In his remarks on Wednesday, Mr. Biden didn’t mention the Republican obstruction. As a substitute, he focused on the bipartisan nature of the agreement, citing its passage as evidence that he has made good on his promise to bridge ideological divides within the nation’s capital to get things done.
“I don’t need to hear the press tell me Democrats, Republicans can’t work together,” he said. “We got it done, and we got it done together.”
Danielle Robinson, the wife of Sgt. Heath Robinson, who died of lung cancer after serving in Iraq, spent years helping to guide the fight for the brand new veterans advantages. The laws was named after her husband.
In her own remarks on the White House, Ms. Robinson described how her husband developed cancer a decade after coming back from combat. She thanked Mr. Biden and the opposite activists for pushing lawmakers to pass laws that can make it easier to receive medical treatment and advantages after similar exposures.
“So many veterans are still battling burn pit illnesses today,” she said. “Too many have succumbed to those illnesses as well. And I’m honored to be with the daddy of one other military family that understands the final word sacrifice like we do — our commander in chief, President Joe Biden.”
Beau Biden died of brain cancer in 2015.