WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is scheduled to travel to Texas on Tuesday to push for better benefits for veterans experiencing health complications after being exposed to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Biden, who is scheduled to be joined by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough, is set to visit a clinic in Fort Worth and deliver remarks on “expanding access to health care and benefits for veterans affected by military environmental exposures such as burn pits,” according to the White House.

In his first State of the Union address last week, Biden said that U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan faced many dangers, including “breathing in toxic smoke from burn pits.”

“When they came home, many of the world’s fittest and best trained warriors were never the same. Headaches. Numbness. Dizziness. A cancer that would put them in a flag-draped coffin,” Biden said.

The issue is personal for Biden. His son Beau Biden was deployed to Iraq in 2008 and was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013. He died two years later, at age 46.

“We don’t know for sure if a burn pit was the cause of his brain cancer, or the diseases of so many of our troops,” Biden said during the State of the Union. “But I’m committed to finding out everything we can.”

Burn pits were used at U.S. military bases during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to dispose of trash, including medical waste, vehicle parts, batteries and human waste. The pits were doused in jet fuel and set on fire, spewing toxic fumes into the air.

The Department of Defense estimates that roughly 3.5 million service members could have been exposed to burn pits, but getting treatment can be difficult because veterans are required to prove a direct connection between their health complications and their military service.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has denied about 75 percent of veterans’ burn pit claims.

The Biden administration announced last year that soldiers exposed to burn pits who developed asthma, rhinitis or sinusitis within 10 years can receive disability benefits. Biden has also directed the VA to examine links between burn pit exposure and rare forms of cancer and has voiced support for expanding the number of conditions that the VA would presume were caused by toxic exposure from burn pits.

The White House said Biden would use his remarks in Texas to urge Congress to pass legislation “that ensures we honor our commitment to veterans exposed to toxic substances.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the president’s visit was part of the “unity agenda” he announced during the State of the Union, which includes addressing issues related to the opioid epidemic, mental health, veterans and cancer.

“President Biden believes we have a sacred obligation to care for our veterans and their families. And as a military family, the Bidens know firsthand the challenges that come from military service and deployment to combat zones,” Psaki said.

Lauren Egan is a White House reporter for NBC News based in Washington.


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