Biden signs ‘burn pits’ law widening US veterans’ health benefits

The law significantly expands healthcare and disability benefits for millions of US veterans exposed to toxins.

United States President Joe Biden has signed legislation expanding healthcare for millions of US veterans who were exposed to toxins during their service – including smoke emanating from “burn pits”, contaminated water and Agent Orange used in the Vietnam war.

Biden signed the bill, known as the PACT Act, on Wednesday. The law is expected to provide more than $280bn over a 10-year period for expanded healthcare and disability benefits for about 3.5 million impacted veterans. The pits were used to burn waste such as plastic tyres, batteries, explosives, human feces and chemicals in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Today, we’re one step closer to fulfilling that sacred obligation with the bill I’m about to sign into law,” Biden said at a signing ceremony on Wednesday. “This is the most significant law our nation has ever passed to help millions of veterans who were exposed to toxic substances during their military services.”

The signing concluded a dramatic political effort, which saw veterans camp outside of Congress in punishing heat and sustained pressure that eventually won over enough Republicans to pass the bill.

More than two dozen Republicans had refused to pass the law, even after voting for near-identical legislation in June. They eventually reversed course and passed the bill last week after an outpouring of anger from veterans. It is considered one of the largest expansions of veteran healthcare in decades.

For Biden, the passage of the bill was deeply personal: he believes his late son Beau’s fatal brain cancer could have been caused by a burn pit from when he served in Iraq.

“The toxic smoke thick with poison [was] spreading through the air and into the lungs of our troops,” Biden said Wednesday. “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.”

Burn pits were used for years in Iraq and Afghanistan, but 70 percent of disability claims involving exposure were denied by the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA).

Biden signs ‘burn pits’ law widening US veterans’ health benefits | Military News | Al Jazeera