Defense

Biden announces plans to help veterans exposed to toxic chemicals

Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via AP

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will be taking new measures to care for veterans who are suffering from nine cancers related to exposure to toxic chemicals, President Biden announced Tuesday.

“The VA is pioneering new ways of linking toxic exposures to diseases, already helping more veterans get benefits,” Biden said during his State of Union address. “And tonight, I’m announcing we’re expanding eligibility to veterans suffering from nine respiratory cancers.”

The VA said in an announcement earlier Tuesday that it was adding the nine cancers to its list of disabilities that were caused by military service — meaning affected veterans may be eligible for disability compensation.

Helping veterans exposed to toxic chemicals due to burn pits has gained bipartisan momentum, and the issue has been personal for Biden, whose son Beau Biden died of brain cancer in 2015. The president invoked his son on Tuesday.

“We don’t know for sure if a burn pit was the cause of his brain cancer, or the diseases of so many of our troops,” the president said. “But I’m committed to finding out everything we can.”

The president also called on Congress to pass legislation to make sure veterans who were exposed to toxins in Iraq and Afghanistan get benefits and comprehensive care.

The Senate passed the Health Care for Burn Pit Victims Act in mid-February, which expands VA health care for combat veterans who served after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack and were exposed to toxic burn pits.

The bill would extend the period of eligibility for combat veterans after this period from five years to 10 years following discharge — and would include training on toxic exposures for employees, mandating clinical toxic exposure screenings and boosting federal research on the subject.

“Veterans are the best of us,” Biden said in his speech. “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.”

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