On Thursday, President Joe Biden and Utah’s Republican Governor Spencer Cox will commemorate the first anniversary of the bipartisan PACT Act, which has resulted in the largest expansion of veterans’ benefits in decades.
The Democratic president and the Republican governor will visit the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center to promote a law aimed at improving health care and disability compensation for exposure to toxic substances, such as burn pits used to dispose of trash on military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over the past year, more than 348,000 veterans have had their claims approved, and approximately 111,000 who are believed to have been exposed to toxins have enrolled in health care.
The president is concluding a three-state western tour in which he combined events highlighting his first-term accomplishments with campaign fundraisers aimed at helping him win a second term. Both Biden and Cox have emphasized the necessity of extending across party lines to find common ground. Care for veterans is a personal issue for Biden. Long ago, he concluded that his eldest son’s fatal brain cancer was caused by his exposure to fire pits while serving abroad with the Delaware National Guard. Biden stated on Tuesday at a fundraiser in Albuquerque that his son Beau had perished “because of Iraq.”
The expansion of benefits has delighted advocates but presented a challenge to the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has been scrambling to hire additional personnel to process the influx of applications. In April, the backlog of disability claims, defined as those that have been pending for at least four months without a decision, is expected to increase from approximately 266,000 currently to 730,000. In a recent interview with The Associated Press, VA Secretary Denis McDonough stated that the department is ahead of its internal projections and is working to expedite the processing of veteran claims.
“Now that we’ve encouraged them to file their claims, we want them to continue to have a positive experience with us by receiving prompt responses to their claims,” he explained. That is the greatest difficulty.
VA Secretary: Claims Processing Accelerated, Exceeding Internal Projections
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, VA Secretary Denis McDonough stated that the department is ahead of its internal projections and is working to expedite the processing of veteran claims. “Now that we’ve encouraged them to file their claims, we want them to continue to have a positive experience with us by receiving prompt responses to their claims,” he explained. That is the greatest difficulty.
Although there is no application deadline, anyone who submits a claim or merely indicates their intent to do so by Monday will be eligible for retroactive payments to the previous year if their claim is approved. Due to technical difficulties with the VA website, officials extended the deadline, which was originally scheduled for Wednesday.
Before returning to Washington on Thursday, Biden was slated to host a reelection fundraiser. His trip to Utah was marred by acts of violence. FBI agents fatally shot a man suspected of threatening to murder Vice President Biden as they attempted to serve a search warrant at his residence in Provo, about an hour’s drive south of Salt Lake City, only hours before Biden’s arrival in the state on Wednesday. According to court documents, the individual posted online on Monday that he had heard Biden was coming to Utah and made new threats against the president.
According to a White House official who requested anonymity to discuss the matter, Biden was apprised on the incident after it occurred. This week, Biden makes his third and final visit in Utah. Tuesday, he proclaimed a new national monument near the Grand Canyon in Arizona, his first stop. His next destination was Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he participated in a fundraiser and visited the prospective site of a wind tower factory. The facility, which once produced Solo cups and plastics, has been closed for several years.
As he seeks a second term in office, Biden is attempting to persuade voters that his economic policies, which include tax credits for renewable energy, have resulted in new employment and lower inflation.