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Biden expands disabled veterans benefits to add 9 ‘burn pit’ linked cancers

President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Feb. 10, 2021. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
April 25, 2022

President Joe Biden announced on Monday that the Department of Veterans Affairs will expand the list of military service-connected disabilities to include nine burn pit-related respiratory cancers, making victims eligible for veterans benefits.

“In my State of the Union address, I announced that we would propose expanding disability and health benefits to veterans suffering from nine rare respiratory cancers. Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs is delivering on that promise and upholding that sacred obligation to the women and men who have worn the uniform of our country,” Biden said in his statement.

Biden said that the action was “guided by science and driven by a desire to ensure that our nation’s veterans receive timely access to the benefits and services they deserve,” adding that he refused to repeat the mistake made when Vietnam War veterans were sickened after exposure to Agent Orange.

The Department of Veterans Affairs separately announced the addition of nine types of rare respiratory cancers to its list:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma of the larynx.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma of the trachea.
  • Adenocarcinoma of the trachea.
  • Salivary gland-type tumors of the trachea.
  • Adenosquamous carcinoma of the lung.
  • Large cell carcinoma of the lung.
  • Salivary gland-type tumors of the lung.
  • Sarcomatoid carcinoma of the lung.
  • Typical and atypical carcinoid of the lung.

The change officially goes into effect on Tuesday. The department said it will begin processing disability compensation claims for veterans “who served any amount of time in the Southwest Asia theater of operations beginning Aug. 2, 1990, to the present, or Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Syria or Djibouti beginning Sept. 19, 2001, to the present.”

The VA said scientific and medical evidence showed a “biological plausibility between airborne hazards and carcinogenesis of the respiratory tract — and the unique circumstances of these rare cancers warrant a presumption of service connection.”

“Veterans who suffer from rare respiratory cancers associated with their service deserve the very best America has to offer—but they’ve had to wait for the care and benefits they deserve for far too long. That ends now,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “With these new presumptives, Veterans who suffer from these rare respiratory cancers will finally get the world-class care and benefits they deserve, without having to prove causality between their service and their condition.”

Biden also urged Congress to “pass bipartisan legislation to comprehensively address toxic exposures and further deliver the vital benefits our veterans have earned,” adding that he will “sign it immediately.”

In his State of the Union Address on March 1, Biden had said he suspected burn pits to be the cause of his son’s — Delaware Army National Guard Maj. Beau Biden — brain cancer that led to his death.

“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.”