On Wednesday, President Joe Biden signed a bill into law expanding health care benefits to millions of veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits during their military service.
The bill is a major bipartisan success for Congress and addresses a very personal issue for the President. Biden had said he believes there may have been a connection between the brain cancer that killed his 46-year-old son, Beau Biden, and the burn pits Beau was exposed to during his military service.
“Toxic smoke, thick with poison spreading through the air and into the lungs of our troops. When they came home, many of the fittest and best warriors that we sent to war were not the same—headaches, numbness, dizziness, cancer. My son Beau was one of them,” Biden said.
Burn pits were commonly used to burn waste – including trash, munitions, hazardous material and chemical compounds – at military sites throughout Iraq and Afghanistan until about 2010. These humongous open-air burn pits, which were often operated at or near military bases, released dangerous toxins into the air that, upon exposure, may have caused short and long-term health issues, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The bill adds conditions related to toxic exposure as well, including hypertension, to the list of illnesses in the Department of Veterans Affairs handbook. They are removing the burden for veterans to prove their poisonous exposure resulted in these conditions. It could potentially provide coverage for up to 3.5 million toxic-exposed veterans.
The President said, “We have many obligations and only one truly sacred obligation: To equip those we send into harm’s way and to care for them and their families when they come home.”