By Nandita Bose
SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) – President Joe Biden will visit a Utah veterans’ medical center on Thursday to mark the one-year anniversary of the signing of legislation providing 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 will meet with 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.
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.
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 Jarrett Renshaw and Nandita Bose; Editing by Leslie Adler)