As many as 2.5 million veterans may have been exposed to burn pits while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Monday, the Biden administration announced that nine respiratory cancers that have been connected to exposure to burn pit toxins would be added to the list of disabilities related to military service. The action will allow military veterans suffering from these ailments to receive health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“This new action is guided by science and driven by a desire to ensure that our nation’s veterans receive timely access to the benefits and services they deserve,” President Joe Biden said in a statement on Monday.
Previously, veterans who suffer from these lung-related cancers would have been denied care from the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system since the government did not view the illnesses as stemming from military service.
The department said that the ailments had been added to its list after “a focused review of scientific and medical evidence” showed that “there is biological plausibility between airborne hazards and carcinogenesis of the respiratory tract.”
“With these new presumptives, Veterans who suffer from these rare respiratory cancers will finally get the world-class care and benefits they deserve, without having to prove causality between their service and their condition,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement.
As many as 2.5 million veterans may have been exposed to burn pits, which were used to burn trash and waste from military bases used in Afghanistan and Iraq during the wars there.
Veterans’ groups have frequently advocated for a more robust government response to the afflictions resulting from possible exposure.
In his State of the Union speech in March, Biden highlighted the issue and announced the beginning of the federal rule-making process for including the new forms of cancer.
Biden said then, as he has previously, that he believes there is a link between burn pits and the death of his son Beau Biden, who died from brain cancer in 2015. Beau Biden served in Iraq and Kosovo as part of the Delaware Army National Guard.
Among Biden’s guests for the State of the Union was burn pit activist Danielle Robinson of Sandusky, Ohio, who was a special guest of First Lady Dr. Jill Biden. Robinson’s husband Heath died in 2020 from lung cancer after he worked near burn pits during his military service in Iraq and Kosovo.
“We only have one truly sacred obligation, and I mean this — sacred obligation — and that is to train and equip those who we send into harm’s way and care for them and their families when they come home,” Biden said in a March 8 speech, a week after the State of the Union.
Biden has also said that he supports the passage of the Honoring our PACT Act, which would expand benefits for veterans who served near burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The legislation passed the House in March, with all Democrats voting in favor and a majority of Republicans voting against it. The bill has not yet come up for a vote in the Senate, but it has the backing of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Biden said Monday that once the bill passes Congress, “I will sign it immediately.”
Biden’s actions come after former President Donald Trump’s time in office when he was criticized for his approach to veterans’ health care.
Groups advocating for veterans criticized Trump in his first year in office after his administration announced plans to privatize the government-operated health system for veterans. It was also later shown that Trump had provided members of his private club, Mar-a-Lago, with access to officials at the VA and allowed those unaccountable officials to influence policy at the department which affected the health care of millions of servicemembers.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.