VA Expands List of Cancers for Burnt Pit Victims

VA Expands List of Cancers for Burnt Pit Victims

In his State of the Union address on March 1, President Joe Biden announced that the Veterans Administration would add nine cancers to its list of presumptive disabilities.

That means veterans who served after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and were exposed to toxic burn pits are eligible for VA health care and possible disability compensation payments. They don’t have to prove that their diseases were caused by that exposure.

Helping veterans exposed to these toxic chemicals has gained bipartisan momentum, according to the Reserve Association of America.

The Senate passed the Health Care for Burn Pit Victims Act in mid-February. The bill would extend the period of eligibility to 10 years following discharge — and would include training on toxic exposures for employees, mandating clinical toxic exposure screenings and boosting federal research.

The issue was personal for Biden, whose son Beau died of brain cancer in 2015.

“We don’t know for sure if a burn pit was the cause of his brain cancer, or the diseases of so many of our troops,” the president said. “But I’m committed to finding out everything we can.”

Biden also called on Congress to pass legislation to make sure veterans who were exposed to other toxins in Iraq and Afghanistan get benefits and comprehensive care.

On Monday at 10 a.m., Sen. Jack Reed, Congressman David Cicilline and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza are scheduled to participate in a ribbon-cutting for the new VA Research Center on Niagara Street.

At the 2019 groundbreaking, Dr. Susan MacKenzie, then director of the Providence VA Medical Center, said the new facility would develop ways to help veterans get through a variety of health concerns.

“Improving care by facilitating research into areas such as long-term care, neurotechnology, cardiopulmonary health, rehabilitation, mental health and post-traumatic stress, and substance abuse – the mission of this new facility once we have it up and running,” MacKenzie said.

The Jonathan H. Harwood Army Reserve Center on Niagara Street was the former home of Rhode Island units of the 76th Division.

It has been fully renovated, and 7,200 square feet of space has been added. The $12-million project includes site improvements such as a new parking lot, landscaping and security upgrades.

The facility will retain the Harwood name.

A native of East Greenwich, Capt. Jonathan H. Harwood Jr. attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, but graduated from Cornell University.

He landed at Point du Hoc, Normandy, as part of the famed 2nd Ranger Battalion on the early morning of June 6, 1944. In command of a Naval Shore Fire Control Party, he scaled a 100-foot cliff and helped eliminate the gun batteries that threatened the invasion.

According to a tribute from Cornell, “He spent the rest of the day under intense fire directing the Navy bombardment from the top of the cliff. His unit suffered over 70% casualties on D-Day; in the early evening he became one of those casualties.”

Harwood was posthumously awarded the Silver Star. He is buried at the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer.