President Biden’s visit to Fort Worth will focus on veterans exposed to toxins overseas
President Joe Biden will visit Fort Worth on Tuesday to address a new goal for his administration: Helping veterans exposed to toxins during their time in the military.
The president plans to visit the Fort Worth VA Clinic and the Resource Connection of Tarrant County, where he’ll talk about expanding healthcare access for veterans exposed to toxins during their service, according to a press release from the White House.
That’s a goal Biden brought up at his first State of the Union address last week.
“I’ve always believed that we have a sacred obligation to equip all those we send to war and care for them and their families when they come home,” he said.
Biden specifically mentioned the burn pits that were common at military sites in Iraq and Afghanistan. The military got rid of chemicals, paint, plastic, petroleum and human waste by burning them, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Long-term health impacts from burn pit exposure can include problems with the skin, eyes, liver, kidneys, respiratory system and central nervous system, according to Veterans Affairs.
The VA is also exploring the link between burn pits and certain cancers, Military Times reports. The U.S. House recently passed a bill that would open up VA healthcare benefits to veterans suffering from nearly two dozen illnesses who were exposed to toxins in the military, removing the burden of proving that their illness was caused by their service.
The president mentioned his late son Beau Biden during the State of the Union. Beau Biden served in the military and died of brain cancer in 2015, at the age of 46.
“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 disease of so many other troops,” President Biden said. “But I am committed to find out everything we can."
Toxic exposure is a longstanding issue among veterans, said Randy McGuffee, the director of Mission United for United Way of Tarrant County, an organization that connects North Texas veterans and military families with healthcare and other resources.
Veterans of the war in Vietnam still suffer from exposure to Agent Orange, an herbicide the U.S. military used to clear vegetation, which is linked to a long list of cancers and other diseases.
"A gentleman that I'm good friends with is still dealing with those issues 40, 50 years down the road,” McGuffee said. “So what are the long-term consequences of the burn pits?”
McGuffee said he’s glad the president is addressing veterans' health, but he hopes Biden doesn’t forget about deeper systemic issues affecting veterans. In North Texas, the most pressing need is stable housing, he said.
"The employment, the lack of connection in their communities, the pressures, the mental health issues, the relationship issues, the potential substance abuse issues, all of those other things that drive their health and impact their health need to be addressed as well," McGuffee said.
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