Biden wants health benefits for US ‘burning pit’ veterans | Joe Biden News

Tens of thousands of U.S. service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been exposed to airborne toxins from “hot spots.”

President Joe Biden will travel to Fort Worth, Texas on Tuesday to advocate for better health benefits and medical care for U.S. military veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and returned with chronic illnesses following a exposure to combustion sources.

Biden, whose son Beau Biden died in 2015 of a rare brain cancer after serving in Iraq, is calling on Congress and the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide treatment to a growing number of suffering veterans respiratory diseases and cancers.

The VA “is pioneering new ways to link toxic exposures to disease, already helping more veterans get benefits,” Biden said in his State of the Union address to Congress last week. urging lawmakers to pass legislation that would ensure veterans get health care. exposure that has long been denied.

Burn pits were large holes dug in the ground, some as big as a football field, into which trash and waste from nearby US military bases was dumped and sometimes burned with jet fuel.

The problem is reminiscent of the “Agent Orange” disease that emerged in Vietnam War veterans who were exposed to the highly toxic defoliant sprayed on the country’s jungles. Burning was a common US military practice in Iraq and Afghanistan during wars that began in 2001, leaving up to 2.5 million veterans potentially exposed.

“Basically, anyone who’s been on the ground there for the last 20 years has been exposed to fire pits,” said Dr. Victoria Cassano, an occupational physician who works with chronically ill veterans. resulting from their military service.

“Everything and everything was burned in the burn pits and that’s why you get all these different toxins. There were so many toxins – and it varies from home to home – that there was no It is not necessary or possible to determine which particular toxin causes a disease,” Cassano told Al Jazeera.

Already, more than 100 veterans die each year from rare cancers and other chronic illnesses believed to have been caused by exposure to airborne toxins from burning fireplaces, according to Cassano and d other experts. Many of them are young adults who should otherwise be healthy.

In Forth Worth, Biden and VA Secretary Denis McDonough are due to meet with veterans suffering from exposure to environmental toxins from burning fireplaces and will receive a briefing from VA doctors and nurses. The president is to comment on expanding access to care for veterans affected by exposure to harmful substances, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

Biden’s push gives veterans advocates hope that Congress and the administration will finally address a problem of delay and denial that has plagued the VA for more than a decade, said Patrick Murray, legislative director of veterans affairs. foreign wars, an association of former military service people.

“We want to deal with it now, get people in for preventative care, do blood work and get primary care early and often to catch these things so people don’t show up for VA presaging diseases at advanced stage, terrible cancers and dying,” Murray said.

“We want to catch these things early so people can continue to live their lives to the fullest,” Murray told Al Jazeera.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a leading congressional Democrat, supports legislation addressing veterans’ exposure to fireplaces [Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo]

The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed a bill called the Honoring our PACT Act that seeks to reform VA processes to ensure veterans receive care for potential chemical exposures. toxic. Similar legislation is pending in the Senate.

“What this legislation does, which is actually very good, is it requires the VA to get medical advice, if the allegation is exposure to burn sites,” Cassano said.

Rosie Torres is a longtime veterans advocate whose husband, Le Roy Torres, served the U.S. Army in Iraq, became chronically ill, and was forced to quit his job as a Texas state trooper. . Together they formed a group called Burn Pits 360 in 2010 to advocate for veterans. Now they see Congress finally ready to act, in part because of Biden’s experience with his son Beau.

“It gives us hope,” Torres told Al Jazeera. “There are so many Beau Bidens in our community who have worked for this. And they buried their loved ones. And it was a slow, agonizing death for their children, their son, their daughter, their husband, their wife. And they were all very young.