May 28, 2024

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Biden signs bill to help veterans exposed to toxic pit burns

Biden signs bill to help veterans exposed to toxic pit burns

President Biden on Wednesday signed a bill expanding medical benefits for veterans They are exposed to toxins resulting from burning military base wasteending a years-long quest for support by veterans and their families.

The issue is too personal for the president, who has Long speculated His son Beau developed brain cancer from burns when he served in Iraq as a member of the Delaware National Guard. Before signing the legislation, Mr. Biden described the residual effects of exposure.

“Poisonous smoke, thick with toxins, spreads through the air and reaches the lungs of our troops,” he said. “When they came home, many of the best and fittest warriors we had sent to war were not the same. Headache, numbness, dizziness, cancer. My son, Bo, was one of them.”

At a ceremony packed with veterans and their families in the East Room of the White House, Biden described progress in the new law toward fulfilling a “sacred obligation” for those who defended the nation and their families. The law was passed despite a last-minute delay by Republican senators, who blocked its passage but backed out after a backlash.

“This is the most important law our nation has ever passed to help the millions of veterans who are exposed to toxic substances during their military service,” Mr. Biden said, adding a few minutes later, “This law is long overdue. Together, we finally got it done.”

The legislation addresses the effects that some veterans have experienced after sleeping and working near large fires on military bases where trash – including tires, jet fuel, chemicals and other equipment – has been burned, causing large clouds of smoke. Research suggests that toxins in smoke may be responsible for a range of illnesses experienced by veterans, including cancer, bronchial asthma, allergic rhinitis, sleep apnea, bronchitis, and sinusitis.

The new law, known as the PACT Act, makes it easier for veterans who believe they were exposed to toxins during their service to apply for medical benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The act creates $280 billion in federal funding, making it one of the largest expansions of veterans benefits in American history.

In his remarks, Biden praised many years of work by family members and activists, and singled out comedian Jon Stewart, for his fervent and sometimes angry demands that politicians pass the bill.

“What you did, John, is important, and you know it matters,” Biden said to Mr. Stewart, who was in the room for the signing ceremony. “You should know. Really, really important. You refused to let anyone forget. You refused to let them forget, and we owe you, big man.”

Mr. Stewart, who has been lobbying for the bill for years, was Especially vocal last month, when Republican senators suddenly refused to support the measure, citing concerns that it was structured in a way that could create an expensive new entitlement. The legislation passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the House of Representatives, and Republican senators who objected had expressed their unwavering support just weeks earlier.

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Appearing on CNN after Republicans blocked the bill, Mr. Stewart was furious, helping to spur a sharp reaction that led to the latter’s passage days later.

“I’m used to lying. I’m used to hypocrisy. I’m used to their cowardice,” Mr. Stewart told Jake Tapper on CNN’s “The Lead.” “I’m not used to cruelty, occasional cruelty.”

In his Wednesday remarks, Biden made no mention of obstructing Republicans. Instead, he focused on the bipartisan nature of the pact, citing his acknowledgment as evidence that he made good on his promise to bridge ideological divisions in the nation’s capital to get things done.

“I don’t want to hear the press telling me Democrats, Republicans can’t work together,” he said. “We got it done, and we got it done together.”

Danielle Robinson, wife of Sgt. Heath Robinson, who died of lung cancer after serving in Iraq, has spent years helping to lead the fight for new veteran benefits. The legislation was named after her husband.

In her private notes at the White House, Ms. Robinson described how her husband contracted cancer a decade after returning from a fight. She thanked Mr. Biden and other activists for pushing lawmakers to pass legislation that would make it easier to receive medical treatment and benefits after similar exposures.