Biden marks anniversary of toxic burn pit legislation during Utah trip

By Nandita Bose

SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) – President Joe Biden visited a U.S. veterans’ medical center in Utah on Thursday to mark the one-year anniversary of the signing of legislation that provides aid to veterans sickened by gases from military toxic burn pits.

Biden is at the end of a three-state swing through the American West to invigorate his reelection bid by touting the economy, new infrastructure projects and legislative accomplishments to Americans, many of whom are unhappy about the direction of the country.

Biden spoke to veterans at the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City to highlight the one-year anniversary of the PACT Act, which has already provided 4.1 million veterans with free screenings for toxic exposures and processed nearly 459,000 claims, according to the White House.

The U.S. military used burn pits to dispose of waste on foreign bases until the mid-2010s. Fumes from burning everything from rubber, chemical waste and ammunitions to human feces have caused rare cancers and respiratory illnesses in veterans.

Under the law, certain cancers and ailments, including hypertension, are presumed to be connected to the burn pits and the need for veterans to prove they were connected was eliminated.

Biden said he did not want to see today’s veterans suffer the way U.S. veterans who fought in Vietnam did by having to prove that exposure to Agent Orange during that war had caused health problems later.

“The PACT Act means today’s veterans and their families won’t suffer the same painful frustrating delays and denials,” Biden said.

“We have a moral obligation to respond to this, and I’m here today to spread the word,” he said.

The bill is expected to cost an estimated $180 billion over the first four years. It would benefit nearly 3.5 million veterans who developed cancer and other illnesses after being exposed to fumes from the pits.

The issue is personal to the president. Biden has said he believes there may have been a connection between the brain cancer that killed his son Beau Biden at age 46 and the burn pits that Beau was exposed to during his military service.

The White House and the Biden campaign are eager to win over skeptical Americans about the effectiveness of his policies to boost the economy and fight global warming.

Some Americans who voted for Biden in 2020 say they believe the economy has fared poorly under his stewardship and they might not vote for him in the 2024 election, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week.

About half of the respondents who voted for Biden in 2020 said they have heard little or nothing of his major policy initiatives to reduce inflation or boost spending on infrastructure.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose, Jarrett Renshaw and Jeff Mason; Editing by Leslie Adler and Jonathan Oatis)