The bill is a major bipartisan victory for Congress and addresses an issue that concerns the president. Biden said he believes there may be a connection between the brain cancer that killed his 46-year-old son, Beau, and the burns Beau suffered during his military service.
“Poisonous smoke, thick with poison, spreads through the air into the lungs of our soldiers. When they came home, many of the best and fittest warriors we sent to war were not the same. Headaches, numbness, dizziness, and cancer. My son Beau was one of them,” Biden said.
Beau Biden was an Iraq War veteran who served as Delaware attorney general and died of brain cancer in 2015.
The bill adds requirements related to burns and exposure to toxins, including high blood pressure, to the list of illnesses the VA has experienced or exacerbated during military service, removing the burden on veterans to prove that their exposure to toxic substances led to these conditions. It can provide coverage for up to 3.5 million veterans exposed to toxins.
“I would have done it in hell or high water,” Biden said, calling the legislation “the most important law our nation has ever passed to help the millions of veterans exposed to toxic substances during their military service.”
“We have many obligations and only one sacred obligation: to prepare those we send into harm’s way and care for them and their families when they return home,” the president said.
Biden was introduced on Wednesday by Danielle Robinson, wife of Sgt. First Class Heath Robinson, for whom the legislation is named. Her daughter, Brill Robinson, was by her side. Danielle Robinson was a guest of First Lady Jill Biden in Biden’s State of the Union address when he called on Congress to pass the stinging bill.
“For us and for many of you in the room, if not all of you, it’s personal. Personal to so many people like Danielle and Brielle. Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson, he’s only 39…They grabbed his hand for the last time in a lifetime 39”.
Biden thanked comedian and political activist Jon Stewart, who has been a leading advocate for veterans of the issue and was at the White House for signing the bill.
“You refused to let anyone forget,” Biden said. “You refused to let them forget. And we owe you, big man. We owe you so much.”
Home Secretary Deb Haaland, Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dennis McDonough and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mallorcas were scheduled to attend the signing of the law at the White House.
The White House is hailing the legislation, known as the PACT Act, as the largest expansion of benefits and services for veterans exposed to toxins in more than 30 years.
Congress passed the bipartisan bill last week after Republicans, who had previously supported the measure, temporarily blocked the bill from progressing as they sought to add cost-control amendments to the package. The surprise move by the Republicans sparked a swift backlash among the veterans and veterans’ groups, and advocates of the measure protested the steps of the US Capitol for several days.
“Professional web geek. Alcohol fan. Devoted zombie trailblazer. Certified social media lover. Amateur creator. Friendly food nerd.”