During his State of the Union Address on Tuesday night, President Joe Biden announced new efforts to care for veterans harmed by toxic exposure, including burn pits.
“The VA is pioneering new ways of linking toxic exposures to diseases, already helping more veterans get benefits,” Biden said Tuesday night. “And tonight, I’m announcing we’re expanding eligibility to veterans suffering from nine respiratory cancers. I’m also calling on Congress: pass a law to make sure veterans devastated by toxic exposures in Iraq and Afghanistan finally get the benefits and comprehensive health care they deserve.”
“Our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan faced many dangers,” Biden said. “One was stationed at bases and breathing in toxic smoke from ‘burn pits; that incinerated wastes of war—medical and hazard material, jet fuel, and more. When they came home, many of the world’s fittest and best-trained warriors were never the same. Headaches. Numbness. Dizziness. A cancer that would put them in a flag-draped coffin.”
Biden went on to share his belief, though not yet confirmed, that his eldest son, Delaware Army National Guard Maj. Beau Biden may have been one of the U.S. service members who became ill after burn pit exposure. Beau Biden died in 2015 of brain cancer.
“We don’t know for sure if a burn pit was the cause of [Beau’s] brain cancer, or the diseases of so many of our troops,” the president said. “But I’m committed to finding out everything we can.”
Biden went on to say he’s also “committed to military families like Danielle Robinson from Ohio.”
“The widow of Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson. He was born a soldier. Army National Guard. Combat medic in Kosovo and Iraq.
Stationed near Baghdad, just yards from burn pits the size of football fields.
Heath’s widow Danielle is here with us tonight. They loved going to Ohio State football games. He loved building Legos with their daughter. But cancer from prolonged exposure to burn pits ravaged Heath’s lungs and body.”
“Danielle says Heath was a fighter to the very end,” Biden continued. “He didn’t know how to stop fighting, and neither did she. Through her pain she found purpose to demand we do better. Tonight, Danielle—we are.”
Earlier in his speech, Biden said “Veterans are the best of us. I’ve always believed that we have a sacred obligation to equip all those we send to war and care for them and their families when they come home.”
Biden also announced his administration is providing additional job training and housing assistance to veterans as well as “helping lower-income veterans get VA care debt-free.”