Biden signs legislation to help veterans exposed to toxic burn pits

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — President Joe Biden signed legislation on Wednesday to expand healthcare for veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits, areas used to incinerate trash.

The PACT Act is expected to help about 3.5 million veterans who have been exposed to burn pits since the 9/11 attacks.

Burn pits have been linked to cancer, asthma, and other chronic health problems. The U.S. military often used burn pits to dispose of waste in Iraq and Afghanistan.

News10NBC interviewed Melissa Hemmerick of Odgen, who said burn pits contributed to the death of her husband, an Army National Guard veteran. The local veteran who served two tours of Afghanistan died in 2017 of throat cancer that spread.

RELATED: Local families of veterans hoping to benefit from burn pit act

Hemmerick advocated for the PACT Act in memory of her husband.

“Why do you have to jump through hoops of fire, they’ve done enough for their country,” she said.

The PACT received bipartisan support. With its signing, veterans no longer need to prove that their illness was caused by burn pit exposure in order to receive disability payments. Before, around 70% of disability claims related to burn pit exposure were denied by the Department of Veterans Affairs due to lack of evidence.

President Biden said he believes burn pit exposure contributed to the brain cancer that killed his son, Beau Biden. Beau was deployed to Iraq in 2008 and diagnosed with cancer five years later.

“So many of you today remind us that we fought for this for so many years, veterans, surviving families, surviving family members,” Biden said.

The Senate passed the bill 84-14 and the House passed the bill 342-88.