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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
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Biden touts help for vets exposed to toxic burn pits

President Joe Biden announced the milestone Tuesday of over 1 million claims approved, providing help for more than 880,000 service members and their families.

(CN) — The Department of Veterans Affairs has granted 1 million claims from people who developed health issues after exposure to burn pits and toxic chemicals while on duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Joe Biden announced Tuesday.

Biden announced the “major milestone” in New Hampshire as part of his election-year push to highlight legislative accomplishments during his administration. He said America has a “truly sacred obligation” to prepare the military for battle and take care of veterans when they come home.

“Too many service members have not only braved the battlefield, but they also did so while breathing in toxic fumes from burn pits,” he said.

The disability benefits come from the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, or PACT. Over 1 million claims have been granted since the law came into force in August 2022, amounting to assistance for 888,000 people in all 50 states. The claims total about $5.7 billion in benefits to service members and surviving family, if a veteran has died.

Burn pits were commonly used in Iraq and Afghanistan to dispose of waste collected at military bases, including plastics, rubber, chemical mixtures and medical waste. Service members returning from those war zones started reporting respiratory illnesses they linked to toxic fumes.

Before the act, the Department of Veterans Affairs denied 70% of disability claims related to burn pit exposure because veterans had to prove a causal link between their symptoms and the pits. The law now requires the VA to assume that certain respiratory illnesses and cancers are related to burn pits or other toxic exposure — without veterans having to prove the link. About 75% of claims are now approved.

Biden has previously blamed the burn pits for causing the brain cancer that killed his son Beau in 2015.

The president compared the symptoms of soldiers exposed to burn pits with first responders in New York exposed to dust on 9/11. He also said the government has learned from its mistakes in taking years to provide benefits to Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange.

“You’ve suffered long enough,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to prove your illness came from the service.”

Although Iraq and Afghanistan veterans' exposure fueled the push for legislation, the PACT Act expanded those benefits for veterans exposed to toxins during any conflict.

“We owe it to everyone we can to put their lives back together,” Biden said. “In America, we leave no veteran behind. That’s the motto.”

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Categories / Health, Politics

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