Biden highlights care for veterans, aid to Ukraine and punishing Putin

Biden highlights care for veterans, aid to Ukraine and punishing Putin

President Biden announced the expansion of benefits for veterans impacted by toxic exposures during his first State of the Union address Tuesday night.

“I’m calling on Congress: pass a law to make sure veterans devastated by toxic exposures in Iraq and Afghanistan finally get the benefits and comprehensive health care they deserve,” said Biden in his national address. "Veterans are the backbone and the spine of this country. They're the best of us. I've always believed that we have a sacred obligation to equip those we send to war, and care for those and their families when they come home."

Biden’s mission in caring for veterans afflicted by illnesses associated with burn pit exposure is a personal one. He believes his son, Beau, may have died because of the toxins he was exposed to during deployments to Iraq and Kosovo. Beau, a major in the Delaware Army National Guard’s Judge Advocate General Corps, died in 2015 at the age of 46 after a battle with brain cancer.

“I don't know for sure if the burn pit that he lived near, that his hooch was near in Iraq and earlier than that, in Kosovo, is the cause of his brain cancer and the diseases of so many other troops, but I am committed to find out everything we can,” the president added.

Biden’s announcement comes as Congress moves to pass sweeping toxic exposure legislation.

The bipartisan Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2021 — also known as the Honoring Our PACT Act — would streamline access to health-care benefits for those who served in areas of known toxic exposure, regardless of disability status and provide health care for potentially as many as 3.5 million veterans exposed to airborne hazards and burn pits.

The legislation is expected to be voted on in the House of Representatives in the coming days. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) also announced they would move to add nine rare respiratory cancers to the list of presumed service-connected disabilities in relation to military environmental exposure to particulate matter.

The American Legion has fought for service-connected disability benefits for conditions linked to toxic exposures for decades and will continue to do so for this generation, testifying multiple times before Congress on the urgency of the issue.

The exposure of military personnel to toxic substances, both while deployed overseas or stationed at home, has been an ongoing issue across a range of wars and generations,” wrote The American Legion in a statement for the record in May 2021. “These exposures have resulted in conditions and illnesses among veterans which can have long-lasting adverse effects on health and quality of life.”

The American Legion supports these efforts through Resolution No. 118: Environmental Exposureswhich supports efforts to expand access to VA health-care benefits for veterans who have been exposed to toxic hazards while on active duty.

Among Biden’s guests at the State of the Union was Danielle Robinson, the widow of Army National Guard Sgt. Heath Robinson. After deploying to Kosovo and Iraq as a combat medic with the Ohio National Guard, Heath Robinson was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder and stage 4 lung cancer.  He died in May 2020, leaving behind his wife and daughter, Brielle.

"They loved going to Ohio State football games," Biden said. "He loved building Legos with their daughter. But cancer from prolonged exposure to burn pits ravaged Heath’s lungs and body. Danielle says Heath was a fighter to the very end. He didn’t know how to stop fighting, and neither did she."

Danielle Robinson is an advocate for helping servicemembers and veterans who have been exposed to environmental hazards and burn pits while serving. She has a doctorate in physical therapy and works with patients who have orthopedic injuries and neurological disorders.  

“Through her pain, she found purpose to demand that we do better. Tonight, Danielle, we are going to do better,” the president said.

He also reaffirmed support for Ukraine, vowing to provide support for the Ukrainian military and to hold Putin accountable for his invasion of the sovereign Eastern European nation.

“We are giving more than $1 billion in direct assistance to Ukraine,” Biden said. “And we will continue to aid the Ukrainian people as they defend their country and to help ease their suffering.”

While Biden also assured the country that American troops would not be sent to fight in Ukraine, he said he would not allow the Kremlin to threaten NATO territory. 

“Our forces are not going to Europe to fight in Ukraine, but to defend our NATO allies in the event that Putin decides to keep moving west,” he said. “For that purpose we’ve mobilized American ground forces, air squadrons, and ship deployments to protect NATO countries including Poland, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.

“The United States and our allies will defend every inch of territory of NATO countries with the full force of our collective power.”

Biden concluded his 62-minute address by once again turning to America’s servicemembers.

“The State of the Union is strong — because you, the American people, are strong,” he told the nation.

“Now is our moment to meet and overcome the challenges of our time. And we will, as one people. One America. The United States of America. May God bless you all. May God protect our troops.”