The White House has presented veterans-focused advocacy as part of Biden’s “unity agenda”—a way to demonstrate the president’s commitment to forging bipartisan consensus in partisan times.
But Biden’s recent focus on burn pits is also inextricably connected to his son, BEAU BIDEN, who died of brain cancer in 2015 at just 46-years-old. In his public remarks, Biden usually notes his uncertainty about the relation between burn pits and Beau’s death. As he put it in the State of the Union speech, “I don’t know for sure if the burn pit that he lived near — that his hooch was near in Iraq and, earlier than that, in Kosovo is the cause of his brain cancer and the disease of so many other troops.”
But Biden occasionally lets slip what he says privately: that he believes burn pit exposure was the cause. “And because of exposure to burn pits — in my view, I can’t prove it yet — he came back with Stage 4 glioblastoma,” he said on the campaign trail in October 2019.
That conviction is now at the center of a legislative battle worth potentially hundreds of billions of dollars. The PACT Act, which just passed, is a bill that expands the health problems that the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) covers for veterans’ care and adds retroactive payments for care they did not receive. The legislation includes glioblastoma, the cancer that killed Beau. From 2007 to 2020, the VA denied 78 percent of veteran disability claims from toxic exposure from burn pits.
JOE BIDEN traveled to Fort Worth, Texas this week to talk to veteran health care providers about the health effects of soldiers exposed to “burn pits”— places where the U.S. military burned large amounts of waste and exposed soldiers to toxic fumes. It’s the second time this month that he’s focused on the topic. In his State of the Union address, Biden invited the widow of a soldier who died of lung cancer after exposure to burn pits while serving in Iraq.
The Senate voted Tuesday night to pass a long-sought bipartisan legislation to expand health care benefits for millions of veterans exposed to toxic burn pits during their military service, sending the bill to President Joe Biden to sign into law. The final vote was 86-11.
Passage of the bill marks the end of a lengthy fight to get the legislation through Congress, as veterans and their advocates had been demonstrating on Capitol Hill for days. Many veterans were allowed into the Senate gallery to watch the final vote on Tuesday evening.