Back in New Hampshire, Biden touts progress on veteran health care

President Joe Biden puts on sunglasses that a group of woman gave him after he spoke about the PACT Act at the Westwood Park YMCA, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Nashua, N.H. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden puts on sunglasses that a group of woman gave him after he spoke about the PACT Act at the Westwood Park YMCA, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Nashua, N.H. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) Alex Brandon

President Joe Biden greets guests after speaking about the PACT Act at the Westwood Park YMCA, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Nashua, N.H. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden greets guests after speaking about the PACT Act at the Westwood Park YMCA, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Nashua, N.H. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) Alex Brandon

President Joe Biden speaks about the PACT Act at the Westwood Park YMCA, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Nashua, N.H. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden speaks about the PACT Act at the Westwood Park YMCA, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Nashua, N.H. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) Alex Brandon

President Joe Biden greets attendees after speaking on the PACT Act, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Nashua, N.H. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

President Joe Biden greets attendees after speaking on the PACT Act, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Nashua, N.H. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) Robert F. Bukaty

President Joe Biden speaks about the PACT Act, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Nashua, N.H. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

President Joe Biden speaks about the PACT Act, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Nashua, N.H. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) Robert F. Bukaty / AP photos

President Joe Biden poses for a photo after speaking about the PACT Act at the Westwood Park YMCA, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Nashua, N.H. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Joe Biden poses for a photo after speaking about the PACT Act at the Westwood Park YMCA, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Nashua, N.H. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) Alex Brandon

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Concord Monitor

Published: 05-22-2024 2:55 PM

Master Sergeant Nicole Lyon, of Hudson, N.H., has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, South Korea and Africa, Germany and the United States.

She said she was exposed to toxic burn pits, waste collection sites, sand, dust and other chemicals. As a result, she’s suffered from neurological problems, reproductive disorders, respiratory disorders and a whole host of other medical challenges.

But because of the PACT Act (short for Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics) signed in August 2022 by President Joe Biden, Lyon is now regularly screened for toxic exposure and lung and breast cancer. On Tuesday, the Biden administration said that more than one million claims have now been approved since the law’s passage.

“I qualify for life-changing neurologic, pulmonary and reproductive care, and I have the peace of mind of knowing that help is there if I do need it,” Lyon said Tuesday before introducing Biden at a White House event at the Westwood Park YMCA in Nashua. “It’s proof that President Joe Biden has our backs.”

The bill’s passage two years ago was nearly sunk by Republican senators, 42 of which initially voted against its passage, roughly a month after supporting it. It wasn’t until after a vigorous campaign led by veterans themselves, who camped out on the steps of the United States Capitol, that the bill ultimately received enough support for Biden to sign it into law.

As the president finds himself less than six months out from the 2024 general election, he utilized his second trip to New Hampshire since March to spread the word about how impactful this legislation has been.

“I took office determined, come hell or high water,” Biden said, “we’re going to protect our heroes and protect our nation.”

Before the law passed, veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan who’d been exposed to toxins and later developed medical complications couldn’t easily receive health care coverage without definitive proof that their illness was caused by their service. The PACT Act eliminates this barrier and allows veterans who served during these wars to more easily receive support.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Since its passage, the law has resulted in more than 5.4 million veterans receiving free screenings for toxic exposure and the delivery of over $5.7 billion in earned benefits to veterans and their families.

The issue is a particularly personal one for Biden whose oldest son, Beau, passed away from brain cancer in 2015. Biden has said Beau developed the cancer because of his time spent serving in the Iraq War. That’s only fueled his passion for fighting to support veterans and their families, he said Tuesday.

“Veterans, you are the solid, steel spine of our nation,” he said. “And that’s not hyperbole.”

Biden himself maintained a more muted tone when it came to attacking Republicans and other opponents, content to simply promote the work of his administration.

Democratic senator Maggie Hassan laid out why the ability of veterans to make their voices heard was so meaningful in ultimately having this bill signed into law. Under an autocrat like Vladimir Putin of Russia, she said, this type of change would be impossible.

Though she didn’t directly address Donald Trump and numerous statements he’s made echoing autocrats around the world, her statement spoke to why democracy is the only reason this law became a reality.

“Autocrats do not answer to the people,” she said. “I say this because the bipartisan PACT Act not only secures better care and benefits for those who fight for our freedoms, the passage of the PACT Act reminds us precisely why freedom and democracy are worth fighting for. Democracy is worth fighting for because, through democracy, we can pass a law like the PACT Act. It is through democracy that the voices of veterans and their families count and are heard. And it is through democracy that we can build on this progress and get better care for veterans.”