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Biden signs law to fund health benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 8/10/2022 Michael McAuliff, Dave Goldiner

President Biden signed into law a measure to improve health benefits for veterans who were exposed to the effects of toxic burn pits while serving overseas.

In a ceremony that was equal parts a personal and political victory, Biden enacted the bill on Wednesday that he made a signature goal not least because his late son, Beau Biden, died of cancer after serving in Kosovo and Iraq.

“President Biden believes that our nation has a sacred obligation to properly prepare and equip the troops we send into harm’s way – and to care for them and their families when they return home,” the White House said in a statement.

President Joe Biden holds the "PACT Act of 2022" after signing it during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, in Washington. © Evan Vucci President Joe Biden holds the "PACT Act of 2022" after signing it during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, in Washington.

President Joe Biden holds the "PACT Act of 2022" after signing it during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, in Washington. (Evan Vucci/)

Burn pits were used in Iraq and Afghanistan to dispose of chemicals, cans, tires, plastics, medical equipment and human waste. However, 70% of disability claims involving exposure to the pits, were denied by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The legislation will direct officials to assume that certain respiratory illnesses and cancers were related to burn pit exposure, helping veterans get disability payments without having to prove the illness was the result of their service.

“At last, today, we are honoring the service members and their families who have given everything for our country,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)


Video: Senate passes PACT Act to help US vets exposed to burn pits, heads to Biden for signature (USA TODAY)

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The Senate overwhelmingly passed the bill last week after Republicans briefly held it up in a spat over the unrelated Democratic push for a climate and spending bill.

Burn pits legislation passes in Senate: ‘most significant expansion of veteran health care benefits in a generation’

The legislation is projected to cost about $280 billion over the next decade.

Veterans groups and comedian Jon Stewart called Republicans hypocrites for giving lip service to vets while refusing to vote for their health care.

Although the provision involving burn pits has garnered the most attention, other health care services will be expanded as well.

Veterans who have served since the Sept. 11 attacks will have a decade to sign up for VA health care, double the current five years.

The legislation also benefits Vietnam War veterans, adding hypertension to the list of ailments presumed to be caused by Agent Orange, a herbicide used by the U.S. military to clear vegetation.

In addition, veterans who served during the war in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Guam, American Samoa and Johnston Atoll will also be considered to have been exposed to the chemical.

The legislation is considered to be the largest expansion of veterans’ health care in more than three decades, but it became an unlikely political football shortly before it passed.

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