Defense

Biden outlines new benefits for Iraq, Afghanistan veterans exposed to burn pits

Associated Press/Patrick Semansky

President Biden on Tuesday traveled to Texas to discuss expanding benefits for veterans exposed to toxic chemicals from burn pits.

In a speech at Resource Connection of Tarrant County in Fort Worth, Texas, Biden lauded the veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, calling them “an incredible generation” of service members.

“This is an incredible generation, the 9/11 generation that fought. They served in a way I think that maybe they’re right up there with the greatest generation because they not only got deployed once, but sometimes twice, three, four times into harms’ way,” Biden said.

“They come home and go back and, after knowing that they cleaned off the blood of the seat of that up-armored Humvee that they ran where they lost somebody, they had to saddle up and go back up again.”

“No other generation has been deployed, redeployed and redeployed and redeployed,” he said, raising his voice.

He called on Congress to pass a law to ensure care for veterans exposed to toxic chemicals while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, he announced a new rule that will add several rare respiratory cancers to the list of presumptive conditions for certain veterans. 

“Not only did they face the dangers of the battlefield, but they were breathing toxic smoke and burn pits,” the president said of service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The issue of burn pits strikes a personal note for the president, who believes the chemicals from burn pits may have contributed to the brain cancer that ultimately killed his son, Beau Biden. 

“When our troops came home, the fittest among them, the greatest fighting force in the history of the world, too many of them were not the same. Headaches, dizziness, numbness, dizziness, cancer,” Biden said. “We don’t know yet enough about the connection between burn pits and each of these diseases so many of our veterans are now facing, but I’m committed, I’m committed to … make the commitment to find out anything we can.”

Biden said his administration is building a more comprehensive database that will help officials get a better picture of which veterans were exposed to burn pits or other toxins. And he urged veterans to sign up for the VA burn pit registry.

“You know what I found about veterans as we work for those who are trying to deal with the mental health problems is, they’re used to always giving. You don’t think you have a right to ask for anything. You don’t think you have a right to ask. We’re asking you, asking you, to tell us, tell us where you’ve been. Tell us what your needs are. Nothing to be ashamed of, it’s to be proud of. We owe you,” he said.

Biden’s trip was a part of the “unity agenda” he proposed at the State of the Union address last week. The agenda includes items he urged Congress to pass on a bipartisan basis, including supporting veterans, as well as addressing the opioid epidemic, providing resources for children’s mental health and ending cancer.

“These are issues that unite us because they impact Americans in every single solitary state, issues that go beyond partisan politics because they’re about people, people, our neighbors,” he said on Tuesday. “Caring for our veterans has been a central focus of my administration since day one.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Biden toured the Fort Worth VA Clinic with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough and Texas Reps. Colin Allred (D), Marc Veasey (D) and Jake Ellzey (R).

“Jake’s a Republican but I like the hell out of him. No, I’m serious, he’s the real deal,” Biden said during his remarks, calling out Ellzey, who served as a Navy fighter pilot in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The president met veterans at the clinic, who demonstrated for him different devices, including an exoskeleton device that allows people in wheelchairs to stand up and a power wheelchair with an off-road and elevation feature.

Tags Colin Allred Denis McDonough Joe Biden Marc Veasey

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