ICYMI: Deseret News Op-Ed: What Biden’s visit to Utah means to Utah’s veterans

Key Point: “Veterans know Biden has our backs, and come November 2024, we will have his and do everything in our power to send him back to the White House to finish the job.”

Deseret News: Opinion: What Biden’s visit to Utah means to Utah’s veterans
By: Glenn Wright 

  • I served six years in the United States Air Force, and my deployment included two combat tours in the Vietnam War as a forward air controller. I spent over half of my service outside the U.S. in Vietnam, Thailand and West Germany, fighting to defend American values and protect our interests at home and abroad. 
  • It takes courage, bravery and great sacrifice to answer the call to serve, and while I’m grateful to have returned home safely and transitioned smoothly back into civilian life, I know that’s not the case for all of my brothers and sisters in arms. Those who serve often bear the scars of their service for many years to come — some visible, some not. 
  • For some veterans, those hardships can include health impacts from exposure to toxic burn pits — sites commonly used by the U.S. military in Iraq, Afghanistan and other overseas locations to dispose of chemicals, plastics, medical waste and other harmful substances. Many veterans who were exposed to the toxic fumes given off from these burn pits during their service now face long-term impacts on their health as a result, including respiratory illness, cancer and other medical conditions.
  • The impacts of these burn pits are widespread. An estimated four million veterans who were deployed in the last 30 years report being exposed to these toxic contaminants and hazardous pollutants, but despite this level of exposure, a vast majority of the impacted veterans are not receiving the help they need — the Department of Veterans Affairs has denied about 78% of disability claims related to toxic exposure, leaving countless veterans to shoulder the burdens on their own. It’s unacceptable.
  • For too long, our leaders have forgotten the debt we owe our service members and allowed our nation’s veterans to slip through the cracks. President Joe Biden is different. Biden understands our sacred obligation to support armed service members, veterans and military families — not just as our troops prepare for battle or ship out overseas, but all the time, including when they return home. To leave our veterans and their families to deal with the fallout of toxic exposure on their own is to forget that obligation.
  • One year ago today, Biden turned the page and fulfilled that obligation by signing the PACT Act — a bill to address toxic exposures in military service and provide veterans and their families with comprehensive medical services. The PACT Act is a historic, bipartisan piece of legislation that expands access to VA health care services for veterans and delivers critical resources that ensure it can deliver timely access to services and benefits for all eligible veterans.
  • This historic bill has been the most significant expansion of VA health care in decades, and it was only made possible by Biden’s leadership and commitment to reaching across the aisle to deliver for those who served.
  • Just one year since this legislation became law, veterans across the country are already feeling its impacts. To date, more than 408,000 veterans and survivors have completed PACT Act related claims, and nearly 350,000 PACT Act claims have been approved — a clear sign that this legislation is providing our veterans with the crucial care they need.
  • We’re proud that Biden has chosen to be here in Utah to mark the anniversary of this critical law, and we’re grateful to see the Biden-Harris administration’s continued commitment to caring for our nation’s veterans. As the president delivers his remarks at the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salt Lake City tomorrow, he’ll have the support of veterans in Utah and across the country.
  • Veterans know Biden has our backs, and come November 2024, we will have his and do everything in our power to send him back to the White House to finish the job.