SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – U.S. President Joe Biden visited the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Thursday morning to tout the benefits of the PACT Act, which was signed into law a year ago today, Aug. 10.
The PACT Act, or the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins Act, aims to provide timely benefits and services to more than 5 million veterans who may have been impacted by toxic exposures during service from burn pits.
Biden said over 340,000 veteran survivors have already benefited from the law in the year since it was signed. In Utah, roughly 2,800 veterans have already been approved for PACT Act benefits and more than 3,000 have applied. According to Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, those 2,800 have received an estimated total of $12 million in retroactive payments.
“We have many obligations as a nation but we only have one truly sacred obligation,” said Biden. “That is to equip those that we send into harm’s way and to care for them and their families when they come home and when they don’t.”
Biden called the PACT Act one of the most significant laws to have ever been signed into law to help veterans exposed to toxic materials and their families. His purpose for the speech was to raise awareness of the law and help active duty soldiers and veterans get the help they deserve for their military service.
Through the act, the Department of Veterans Affairs is empowered to move quicker to help veterans qualify for benefits such as monthly disability compensation, and regular toxic exposure screenings. It also paves the way for new facilities, research, and more healthcare workers at VA hospitals, including $30 million for new outpatient clinics in Salt Lake City.
Biden said for families that suffered the ultimate loss, the PACT Act provides potential access to life insurance, tuition benefits, home loan assistance, and monthly stipends.
“[It] cannot replace one of the bread-winners in the home, but it sure in hell can help,” said Biden.
During his speech, Biden said there is nothing that should be ashamed of in seeking help. He said his administration is working on helping military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder as well as homelessness.
“We’ve made a lot of progress but we’ve got to keep going,” said Biden. “We are the United States of America. There is nothing – nothing – beyond our capacity when we decide to work together to get it done. We never fail when we do that. Never on any major issue.”
Prior to Biden’s speech, Utah Governor Spencer Cox and Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall provided opening remarks.
“To our veterans, thank you for your service. Thank you for your sacrifice. And to President Biden, thank you for finally helping this country to address the needs of our brave veterans who for too long suffered with chronic illness and died from exposure to the burn pits that they were exposed to during their time of service,” said Mendenhall.
Cox said he would not pass up the opportunity to welcome Biden to the state.
“Certainly, there is one thing that we all equivocally agree on and that is a deep admiration and gratitude to the veterans among us,” said Cox. “Thank you to the brave women and men we have visited with over the past few days. Those who have served our country, worn the uniform of our country, sacrificed their very lives, their health, and their families to make our country the special place that it is today. We honor you and thank you for your service.”