ATLANTA — Thousands of veterans say their cancers and respiratory illnesses are linked to burn pits used to destroy garbage in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Now President Joe Biden is promising to help pay for their treatment.
Biden has a very personal connection to the issue. His son Major Beau Biden was deployed to Iraq for a year and died of a brain tumor in 2015. He was just 46 years old.
Although the president can’t say for certain Beau’s death is linked to the burn pits, he said it is time for those exposed to them to get Veterans Affairs benefits for their illnesses.
“A cancer that would put them in a flag-draped coffin. One of those soldiers was my son, Maj. Beau Biden,” Biden said Tuesday night during his State of the Union Address.
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The president announced his administration is expanding the eligibility to veterans suffering from nine respiratory cancers.
“I’m also calling on Congress to pass a law to make sure veterans devastated by toxic exposure in Iraq and Afghanistan finally get the benefits and coverage of health care they deserve,” Biden said.
Thousands of veterans were exposed to toxic smoke from burn pits where blown-up Humvees, pharmaceuticals, paint cans and other garbage was destroyed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It’s like burning rubber and wood at the same time. When you smell burnt plastic, just a nasty stench,” Iraq war veteran LeRoy Torres told Channel 2 Action News during an interview with us in 2019, where we reported on the dangers of the burn pits.
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Torres believes they damaged his lungs.
“I was beyond exhausted. I was tired of the pain, the headaches,” Torres said.
He and his wife started the nonprofit Burn Pits 360 to help veterans exposed to burn pits fight for benefits after the Department of Veterans Affairs denied their claims.
The group’s registry lists at least six Georgians including Sgt. John Marbutt and Col. David McCracken. Both died of an aggressive brain cancer soon after serving tours in Iraq.
“There were no environmental laws applied overseas. It was just burn everything,” said Tammy McCracken, David McCracken’s widow.
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The VA sent Channel 2 Action News a statement in 2019 that reads, in part:
“VA encourages all veterans who feel their military service has affected their health to submit a claim, which will be adjudicated using the latest scientific and medical evidence available. VA has granted service connection for various ailments associated with burn pits, and does so on an individual, case-by-case basis after review of a veteran’s case.”
“We’re not asking for a handout, just accountability. All we’re asking is, take care of us when we return,” Torres said.
Danielle Robinson, who attended Tuesday night’s State of the Union Address, is one of Burn Pits 360′s advocate widows.
The group told Channel 2 Action News:
“The PACT Act is an invitation for Congress and the President to begin the healing process for those impacted by this instrumentality of war.”
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