Biden seeking more health care for vets exposed to burn pits

Biden seeking more health care for vets exposed to burn pits
President Joe Biden sits in the Oval Office of the White House, on March 4, 2022, in Washington. Photo credit AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

President Joe Biden's trip Tuesday to Fort Worth, Texas, is personal — a chance to talk with veterans and their caregivers and push for more help for members of the military who face health problems after exposure to burn pits.

In last week's State of the Union address, Biden raised the prospect of whether being near the chemicals from pits where military waste was incinerated in Iraq led to the death of his son Beau.

“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,” Biden said in the speech. “But I’m committed to finding out everything we can.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that Biden will be traveling with Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough to Texas. They'll visit the VA clinic in Fort Worth, with remarks to follow at the Tarrant County Resource Connection on “expanding access to health care and benefits for veterans affected by exposure to harmful substances, toxins and other environmental hazards," including those from burn pits, plots of land where the military destroyed tires, batteries, medical waste and other materials.

Biden, a Democrat, will also call on Congress to send him a bill that protects veterans who face health consequences after burn pit exposure. The House last week passed a bill that would provide VA health care to millions of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who meet that criteria.

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Biden's son Beau was a major in a Delaware Army National Guard unit that deployed to Iraq in 2008. The two-term Delaware attorney general was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013 and died two years later at age 46.

It is difficult to link toxic exposure to an individual's medical condition. The concentration of toxic material is often well below the levels needed for immediate poisoning. Still, the VA’s own hazardous materials exposure website along with scientists and doctors say military personnel do face risks and dangers after being exposed to contaminants.