Aug 10, 2022
President Biden signs the PACT Act, expanding healthcare for veterans exposed to toxins Transcript
President Biden signs the PACT Act, expanding healthcare for veterans exposed to toxins. Read the transcript here.
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Speaker 1: (00:45)
Good morning. Good morning. It’s an honor to be here with so many veterans, their families, survivors, and of course, President. This is a monumental moment. It’s our job as a nation to provide toxic exposed veterans and their survivors with the care and benefits they deserve. But for too long, that did not happen. For too long, too many veterans who got sick while fighting for our country had to fight for their care here at home. But from the day he took office, President Biden has made it clear that those days are over. He became the first president to proactively deliver toxic exposure benefits, and care for the veterans who fought for our wars for the past 30 years, establishing presumptions of service connection for asthma, sinusitis, rhinitis, and nine rare respiratory cancers.
Speaker 1: (01:44)
And now by signing the PACT Act into law, President Biden will empower VA to deliver the care that millions of toxic exposed veterans need. And now benefits that they and their loved ones deserve. And VA stands ready to implement PACT now. Veterans can visit va.gov/pact to learn more about how this law will help them and their families and we encourage anyone who might be eligible for PACT Act benefits to apply right away, because we’ll stop at nothing to make sure every veteran, every family member and every survivor gets everything they’ve earned and they deserve. Now, there are so many people to thank for making this day possible, including of course the President who has made this the top priority in his unity agenda and our leaders in Congress who came together to get this done. And of course the veterans who have advocated for this legislation for years and their family members and survivors who have served and sacrificed right alongside the veterans they love.
Speaker 1: (02:59)
In fact, it’s my great honor to introduce two of these family members as our next speakers, Danielle and Brielle Robinson. As so many of you know, Danielle and Brielle are the surviving wife and daughter of Sergeant first class, Heath Robinson. The hero for whom the PACT Act is named. And they’re joined today by Danielle’s mother and Brielle’s grandmother, Susan Zeier. Danielle and Brielle are not only the survivors of an American hero. Now they are very much heroes themselves for holding our country and VA accountable for advocating for this legislation, knowing full well that it can’t bring back what they’ve lost and for making this day possible so other families won’t have to suffer the loss that they have suffered. Danielle, Brielle, thank you for everything. Over to you.
Speaker 2: (04:38)
As a military spouse, when your loved one returns home safely from a deployment, you count your blessings. You’re filled with gratitude. Fear turns to relief as you begin living as a family again, but 10 years post-deployment from Iraq, my husband Heath began the biggest battle of his life, a terminal stage four lung cancer diagnosis due to toxic exposure from a burn pit in Baghdad, a word that became the biggest nightmare of our lives. We quickly learned about warriors who battled their own burn pit illnesses before Heath and the warriors who were still fighting for their lives alongside him.
Speaker 2: (05:19)
Today, I want to remember Heath for the man he was, an immediate friend to everyone who crossed his path, the person who would instantly drop what he was doing to help a friend or a stranger on the street. The guy in the room who had a special glow and warmth to him, a soldier as strong as an ox, physically and mentally, the ultimate cuddler and protector to our sweet little girl Brielle and a leader with a strong warrior ethos, to all those who served under him. I’d like to thank every member of Congress who supported and voted for the PACT Act. All the veterans and organizations who helped raise our voices on Capitol Hill and all the advocates like John Field and John Stewart for your support,
Speaker 2: (06:18)
We could not have done this without you all. Ours is just one story. So many military families have had to fight this terrible emotional battle. So many veterans are still battling burn pit illnesses today. Too many have succumbed to those illnesses as well. And I’m honored to be with the father of another military family that understands the ultimate sacrifice like we do. Our Commander-in-Chief, President Joe Biden.
President Joe Biden: (06:47)
Please have a seat. Danielle, thank you. Before I begin today, I want to say a word about the news that came out today relative to the economy. Actually, I just want to say a number, zero. Today we received news that our economy had 0% inflation in the month of July, 0%. Here’s what that means. While the price of some things went up last month, the price of other things went down by the same amount, the result zero inflation last month when people were still hurting, at zero inflation last month. Economists look at a measure of inflation that ignores food and energy prices and they call it core inflation. That’s about the lowest amount in several years, several months.
President Joe Biden: (08:13)
When you couple that with last week’s booming jobs report of 528,000 jobs created last month and 3.5% unemployment, it underscores the kind of economy we’ve been building. We’re seeing a stronger labor market where jobs are booming and Americans are working and we’re seeing some signs that inflation may be getting to moderate. That’s what happens when you’re building an economy from the bottom up and the middle out, the wealthy do very well and everyone has a chance. It gives everyone a chance to make progress. Now, I want to be clear with the global challenges we face from the war in Europe to disruption of supply chains and pandemic shutdowns in Asia, we could face additional headwinds in the months ahead. Our work is far from over, but two things should be clear. First, the economic plan is working and second is building an economy that will reward work. Wages are up this month, provide opportunity, help the middle class and still have work to do, but we’re on track.
President Joe Biden: (09:12)
The second point I want to make is we need to pass the Inflation Reduction Act right away. That’s the most consequential thing that Congress can do to keep our progress from inflation and from getting better from getting worse, keep it moving in the right direction and it’ll bring down the cost of prescription drugs, health insurance, premiums, and energy cost. That’s going to make big corporations just pay their fair share, nothing more than their fair share. It’s going to reduce the deficit without raising a penny in taxes and people making under $400,000 a year. But it’s far from done in our effort to bring inflation down, but we’re moving in the right direction. So some good economic news today, and some work ahead.
President Joe Biden: (09:56)
Now to the reason we’re here and the most important reason that we’ve assembled in this room in a long time. Danielle, when you were here for the State of the Union, I had hoped you’d be back to sign this for the bill signing. It turns out that’s working. And mom, I remember how strongly supportive you were of this from the very beginning, all the way back when I met you at a book signing a long time ago. And I’m just in awe of your family’s courage, I really mean that. Through the pain, you found purpose to demand that we do better as a nation. And today we are.
President Joe Biden: (10:35)
Brielle, I know you miss your daddy, but he’s with you all the time. He’s inside you. He’s going to whisper in your ear lots of times when you have hard decisions to make. You’re going to wonder what daddy wants you to do and he’s going to be there. He’s going to be there for you. You see that little guy you’re sitting right next to, that’s my grandson, his daddy lost to the same burn pits, and he knows what you’re going through. But guess what, you’re going to do this. You’re going to be really, really strong. And it’s hard taking care of mommy and a grandma, but you got to do it. Okay? All right.
President Joe Biden: (11:10)
To the veterans and their families here today and for all around the country, we can never fully thank you for your service and your sacrifice. And that’s not hyperbole. That’s a literal fact. Less than 1% of you, less than 1% of you risk everything to defend 99% of the population. 1% risk 99%. We owe you. You’re the backbone. You’re the steel. You’re the senior. You’re the very fiber that makes this country what it is. And that’s not hyperbole. That’s a fact. As a nation, we have many obligations and I’ve been saying this for a long, long time. We have many obligations, only one truly sacred obligation, to equip those we send into harm’s way and to care for them and their families when they come home. We have a lot of obligations, but that’s a truly sacred obligation we have.
President Joe Biden: (12:16)
Today, we’re one step closer to fulfilling that sacred obligation with the bill I’m about to sign into law. This is the most significant law our nation has ever passed, to help millions of veterans who are exposed to toxic substances during their military services. Secretary McDonough can tell you, I was going to get this done come hell or high water. This was something, the first thing him and I and a lot of staff knows, that’s true. It’s part of my agenda that I announced in the State of the Union address. I announced four things that all Americans agree on. One was beating the opioid epidemic. Two was tackling the mental health crisis we face as a nation and the consequence of the pandemic. Three was ending cancer as we know it, which we’re going to do and come hell or high water again, and three supporting our veterans. Big issues that unite us.
President Joe Biden: (13:13)
We’re always being told that Democrats and Republicans can’t work together. When I ran, I said one of the reasons I was running, one of the three reasons was to unite the country and I was roundly criticized for being naive. That was the old days. Joe used to be able to do that. Well, guess what? I don’t believe it. We never have failed to. There are a lot of issues we can disagree on, but there issues we can work together on. And this is one of those issues.
President Joe Biden: (13:38)
So many of you here today remind us that we have fought for this for so many years. Veterans, surviving families, surviving family members, advocates like Rosie [inaudible 00:13:50], John Stewart, and John. I want to thank you again. I wanted to come up and hang out in the Capitol steps but the secret service said, I’d be a pain in the neck and wouldn’t let me do it. So at least we did a little video on there, but what you’ve done, John, matters. And you know it does. You should know. It really, really matters. You refuse to let anybody forget, refuse to let them forget. And we owe you big, man. We owe you big
President Joe Biden: (14:15)
And all the rest of you, you never gave up the fight. You never quit. You didn’t stop no matter what you were told. Think about it. Think about how distant this looked five years ago, seven years ago. I also want to thank Senators Tester and Jerry Morgan. By the way, if you’re in a fox hole, you want someone with you, you want Tester in that hole with you. Where are you Jon? Is Jon here? The only problem is John may try to bring his combine in that foxhole with him. Also John Boozman and Kirsten Gillibrand and Dick Blumenthal representatives to [inaudible 00:15:24] and all the other members of Congress who supported this bill, many of whom are here today. I’d like you all to stand. All the members of Congress, please stand.
President Joe Biden: (15:48)
We learned a horrible lesson in Vietnam, which many of you fought. After Vietnam, how harmful effects to exposure of Agent Orange took years to manifest itself in the veterans, leaving too many veterans, unable to access the care they needed and deserve. That’s why back in 1991, I along with others, co-sponsored the Agent Orange Act, supporting veterans exposed to toxic substances in Vietnam. That laid the groundwork for how the VA addresses environmental exposure and the bill that I’m about to sign. Veterans of the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, not only face dangers in battle, they were breathing toxic smoke from burn pits. Because I was Vice President and a Chairman of Foreign relationship before that I was in and out of Iraq over 20 times and in Fort Barnsdale and all those places. And you could actually see some of it in the air. Burn pits the size of football fields that incinerated waste of war, such as tires, poisonous chemicals, jet fuel, and so much more I won’t even mention.
President Joe Biden: (16:52)
And a lot of the hooches, a lot of the places where our soldiers were sleeping were literally quarter a mile, half a mile away from it and where they ate their chow. I mean, it was there all the time and toxic smoke thick with poison spreading through the air and into the lungs of our troops. When they came home, many of the fittest and best warriors that we sent to war were not the same. Headaches, numbness, dizziness, cancer. My son Bo was one of them. Bo’s son hunter is here today, as I mentioned earlier, and his father-in-law and a good friend of mine going all the way back to high school, Ronnie Oliver, along with General Frank [inaudible 00:17:38], who was the commander of the National Guard when Bo was there. And I want to thank them for being here as well.
President Joe Biden: (17:45)
To us and to many of you in the room, if not all of you, it’s personal, personal for so many people like Danielle and Brielle, Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson, just 39 years old, 39 years old. And they held his hand for the last time at age 39. A PACT Act is the least we can do for the countless men and women. Many of whom may be in this room for all I know who suffered toxic exposure while serving their country. The law expands access to healthcare and disability benefits for veterans harmed by toxic exposure.
President Joe Biden: (18:20)
It empowers the Department of Veterans Affairs to move quickly to determine service members’ illness and related military service to see if they qualify. And for families of veterans who died from toxic exposure, it means a monthly stipend of $2,000 a month for surviving spouse with two children. It means access to life, insurance, home loan insurance, tuition benefits, and help with healthcare. It means new facilities, improved care, more research, and increased hiring and retention of healthcare workers treating veterans. This new law matters. It matters a lot. It matters a great deal because these conditions have already taken such a toll on so many veterans and their families.
President Joe Biden: (19:01)
I’ve directed the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to treat all 23 presumptive conditions, as in this law, as applicable. The moment I signed this bill [inaudible 00:19:13] the veterans of those decades of war to promptly file for your claims, the VA will move as quickly as possible to resolve your claim and get you the benefits and the care you’ve earned. And now I want every member, every service member, every veteran, every family member to know how to access the law. Just go to va.gov/pact, va.gov/P-A-C-T. File their claim and apply for your VA healthcare now, or go to your local VA hospital or reach out to the veteran service organizations many of whom made this happen as well from Disabled American Veterans to the American Legion, to the Veterans of Foreign War.
President Joe Biden: (20:02)
And if you need additional assistance, if you need additional assistance, just call, call. And this law becomes on top of my administration’s efforts to pioneer ways to link toxic exposure to diseases and help more veterans get the care they need. We’re building a more comprehensive database for the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs to track and assess exposures, expand the eligibility for veterans suffering from the three respiratory conditions and nine rare respiratory cancers.
President Joe Biden: (20:31)
Early this summer, I signed nine veterans’ bills into law and I will do everything for providing mammograms and screenings for veterans who serve near burn pits to compensating veterans who develop cancer and medical conditions from our World War II nuclear program. We’re not stopping just here, Secretary McDonough and the Department of Veterans Affairs are part of my cancer moonshot initiative to end cancer as we know it. And today I’m proud to name Dr. Monica, going to get it right, doc, Bertagnolli. I better get it right, because I married Dominic J Copper’s daughter. So I got a problem. Okay. But she’s a leading cancer surgeon from family of generations of veterans and is my new Director to the National Cancer Institute. Please stand doc.
President Joe Biden: (21:38)
And they’re all working as one team. We may be in separate departments, but as one team. And perhaps one of the most important things we’re doing is working to bring down the rate of suicide among service members and veterans. An average of 17 veterans die by suicide every single day, 17. It’s an absolute tragedy and demands not only a whole of government approach, but a whole of country working together. So let me close with this. As Commander-in-Chief, I’ve always had your back. I promise you. That includes finally delivering justice al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda’s leader and Bin Laden’s deputy during 9/11, an includes, always fighting for the care and benefits you’ve more than earned and more than deserve. This law, this law is long overdue, but we finally got it done together, together. And I don’t want to hear the press tell me, Democrats and Republicans can’t work together. We got it done. And we got it done together. So God bless you all. You are the backbone, the very spine of this country, and may God protect our troops. Now I’m going to walk over and sign that legislation.
President Joe Biden: (23:04)
That’s okay. All right.
Speaker 5: (24:39)
Ladies and gentlemen, please remain in your seats as the President departs. Thank you.