President Joe Biden vowed to expand benefits for troops on the first Veterans Day without a U.S. war in two decades.
During his speech Thursday at Arlington National Cemetery, Biden expressed his gratitude for American veterans, saying they are the spine of the country.
“Our veterans represent the best of America,” the president said. “You are the very spine of America, not just the backbone…. And all of us owe you.”
Biden said he will work with Congress to ensure that veterans receive “the world-class benefits that they’ve earned.”
He said his administration will expand presumptive conditions for toxic exposure and particulate matter, including Agent Orange and burn pits, and improve care at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities.
Veterans who developed asthma, rhinitis and sinusitis after serving in places like Southwest Asia are now eligible to apply for disability benefits and access to VA health care, according to a fact sheet released Thursday by the White House.
The VA will also examine the possible connection between military environmental exposures and constrictive bronchiolitis, lung cancers and rare respiratory cancers.
The Biden administration also aims to raise awareness of VA benefits related to military exposures and expand training for VA and non-VA providers to better treat veterans with concerns about toxic exposures.
Additionally, the administration will extend the eligibility period for VA health care. Currently, the VA allows veterans to receive free VA health care for up to five years after discharge or release for any condition related to service in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Biden also said Thursday his administration will prioritize mental health care to treat “invisible wounds” and reduce military and veteran suicides.
“I want to say clearly to all our veterans: If you’re struggling—you’re so used to never asking for anything. If you’re struggling, reach out,” he said, advising those in need to call the Veterans Crisis Line.
“For two decades, the lives of our service members and their families and veterans have been shaped by the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Biden, who withdrew U.S. troops from Afghanistan in August. That conflict, America’s longest war, lasted 20 years.
He acknowledged the sacrifices of service members and their families during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, promising that his administration will “meet the sacred obligation that we owe you.”
“The American people are forever grateful and in awe of what you’ve accomplished,” the president said.