Remarks by President Biden at Signing of S. 3373, “The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promises to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022”
10:13 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Please. Please have a seat. Danielle, thank you.
Before I begin today, I want to say a word about the news that came out today relative to the economy. Actually, I just want to say a number: zero.
Today, we received news that our economy had zero percent inflation in the month of July. Zero percent.
Here’s what that means: While the price of some things go up — went up last month, the price of other things went down by the same amount. The result: zero inflation last month. But people are hurting. But zero inflation last month.
Economists look at a measure of inflation that ignores food and energy prices, and they call it “core inflation.” That’s about the lowest amount in several years — several months.
When you couple that with last week’s booming jobs report of 528,000 jobs created last month and 3.5 percent unemployment, it underscores the kind of economy we’ve been building.
We’re seeing a stronger labor market where jobs are booming and Americans are working. And we’re seeing some signs that inflation may be beginning to moderate.
That’s what happens when you build an economy from the bottom up and the middle out. The wealthy do very well, and everyone has a chance. It gives everyone a chance to make progress.
Now, I want to be clear: With the global challenges we face from the war in Europe to disruption of supply chains and pandemic shutdowns in Asia, we — we could face additional headwinds in the months ahead. Our work is far from over.
But two things should be clear. First, the economic plan is working. And second, it’s building an economy that will reward work –- wages are up this month — provide opportunity, help the middle class.
And still have work to do, but we’re on track.
The second point I want to make is we need to pass the Inflation Reduction Act right away. That’s the most consequential thing that Congress can do to keep our progress from — on inflation from — from getting better — from getting worse — keep it moving in the right direction.
And it will bring down the cost of prescription drugs, health insurance premiums, and energy costs. It’s going to make big corporations just pay their fair share — nothing more than their fair share. It’s going to reduce the deficit without raising a penny in taxes on people making under $400,000 a year.
But it’s far from done in our effort to bring inflation down, but we’re moving in the right direction.
So, some good economic news today and some work ahead.
Now to the reason we’re here and the most important reason that we have assembled in this room a long time.
Danielle, when you were here for the State of the Union, I had hoped you’d be back to sign this — for this bill signing. It turns out that’s working. And, Mom, I remember how strongly supportive you were of this from the very beginning, all the way back when I met you at a book signing a long time ago.
And I’m just in awe of your family’s courage. I really mean that. You know, through the pain, you found purpose to demand that we do better for — as a nation. And today, we are.
Brielle, you know, I know you miss your daddy, but he’s with you all the time. He’s inside you. He’s going to whisper in your ear lots of times when you have hard decisions to make. You’re going to wonder what daddy wants you to do, and he’s going to be there. He’s going to be there for you.
You see the little guy you’re sitting right next to? That’s my grandson. His daddy lost to the same burn pits, and he knows what you’re going through. But guess what? You’re going to do this. You’re going to be really, really strong. And it’s hard taking care of mommy and a grandmom, but you got to do it. Okay? All right.
And to the veterans and their families here today and for — all around the country, we can never fully thank you for your service and your sacrifice. And that’s not hyperbole. That’s a literal fact.
Less than 1 percent of you — less than 1 percent of you risk everything to defend 99 percent of the population — 1 percent risk 99 percent. We owe you. You’re the backbone. You’re the steel. You’re the sinew. You’re the very fiber that makes this country what it is. And that’s not hyperbole, that’s a fact.
As a nation, we have many obligations — and I’ve been saying this for a long, long time. We have many obligations but only one truly sacred obligation: to equip those we send into harm’s way and to care for them and their families when they come home. That’s a sa- — we have a lot of obligations, but that’s a truly sacred obligation we have.
Today — (applause) — and today, we are one step closer to fulfilling that sacred obligation with the bill I’m about to sign into law.
This is the most significant law our nation has ever passed to help millions of veterans who were exposed to toxic substances during their military services.
You know, Secretary McDonough can tell you, I was going to get this done come hell or high water. This was something — the first thing — meeting when I — (laughs) — as a lot of staff knows, that’s true. (Laughter.)
It was part of agenda that I announced in the State of the Union Address.
I announced four things that we could unite — that all Americans could agree one. One was beating the opioid ep- — beating the opioid epidemic. Two was tackling the mental health crisis we face as a nation as a consequence of the pandemic. Three was ending cancer as we know it, which we’re going to do come hell or high water again. And three, supporting our veterans. Big issues that should unite us.
We’re always being told that Democrats and Republicans can’t work together. When I ran, I said one of the reasons I was running — one of the three reasons was to unite the country, and I was roundly criticized for being naïve. “That was the old days, Joe. You used to be able to do that.”
Well, guess what? I don’t believe it. We never have failed to. There are a lot of issues we can disagree on, but there are issues we can work together on. And this is one of those issues.
So many of you here today remind us of that. We have fought for this for so many years — veterans, surviving families, surviving family members, advocates like Rosie Torres and Jon Stewart.
And, Jon, I want to thank you again. I — I wanted to come up and hang out on the Capitol steps with you, but the Secret Service said I’d be a pain in the neck. (Laughter.) They wouldn’t let me do it. So at least we did a little video on there, but — (laughter).
But what you’ve done, Jon, matters. And you know it does. I — you should know. It really, really matters. You refuse to let anybody forget. You refuse to let them forget. And we owe you big, man. We owe you big. (Applause.)
And all the rest of you, you never gave up the fight. You never quit. You didn’t stop, no matter what you were told. I — think about it. Think about how distant this looked five years ago, seven years ago.
I also want to thank Senators Tester and Jerry Moran. By the way, if you’re in a foxhole, you want someone with you, you want Tester in the hole with you. (Laughter and applause.) You want — where are you, Jon? (Applause.) Is Jon here? The only problem is, Jon may try to bring his combine in that foxhole with him. (Laughter.)
Also, John Boozman and Kirsten — Kirsten Gillibrand and Dick Blumenthal, Representatives Takano and — and Bost — or Bost and all of the other members of Congress who supported this bill, many of whom are here today. I’d like you all to stand, all the members of Congress. Please stand. (Applause.)
You know, we learned a horrible lesson in Vietnam, in which many of you fought: after Vietnam, how harmful effects to exposure of Agent Orange took years to manifest itself in the veterans, leaving too many veterans unable to access the care they needed and deserve.
That’s why, back in 1991, I, along with others, co-sponsored the Agent Orange Act, supporting veterans exposed to toxic substances in Vietnam. That laid the groundwork for how the VA addresses environmental exposure and the bill I’m about to sign.
You know, veterans of the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan not only faced dangers in battle, they were breathing in toxic smoke from burn pits. Because I was Vice President and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee before that, I was in and out of Iraq over 20 times, and in Fort Basra and all those — all those places. And you could — and you could actually see some of it in the air. Burn pits the size of football fields that incinerated wastes of war, such as tires, poisonous chemicals, jet fuel, and so much more I won’t even mention.
And a lot of the hooches, a lot of the places where our — our soldiers were sleeping were literally a quarter mile, half mile away from it. And where they ate their — their chow. I mean, it was — it was there all the time. And toxic smoke, thick with poison, spreading through the air and into the lungs of our troops.
When they came home, many of the fittest and best warriors that we sent to war were not the same — headaches, numbness, dizziness, cancer.
My son Beau was one of them. Beau’s son, Hunter, is here today, as I mentioned earlier, and his father-in-law and a good friend of mine going all the way back to high school, Ronnie Olivere, along with General Frank Vavala who led the commander of the National Guard when Beau was there. And I want to thank them for being here as well.
To us and to many of you in the room, if not all of you, it’s personal — personal for so many people, like Danielle and Brielle.
Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson, just 39 years old — 39 years old. And he — they held his hand for the last time at age 39.
The PACT Act is the least we can do for the countless men and women, many of whom may be in the room for all I know, who suffered toxic exposure while serving their country.
The law expands access to healthcare and disability benefits for veterans harmed by toxic exposure.
It empowers the Department of Veterans Affairs to move quickly to determine a service member’s illness and related military service to see if they qualify.
And for families of veterans who died from toxic exposure, it means a monthly stipend of $2,000 a month for a surviving spouse with two children.
It means access to life insurance, home loan insurance, tuition benefits, and help with healthcare.
It means new facilities, improved care, more research, and increased hiring and retention of healthcare workers treating veterans.
This new law matters. It matters a lot. It matters a great deal.
Because these conditions have already taken such a toll on so many veterans and their families, I have directed the Department of Veterans Affairs to treat all 23 presumptive conditions as — in this law — as applicable the moment I sign this bill.
I’m urging the veterans of those decades of war to promptly file for your claims. The VA will move as quickly as possible to resolve your claim and get you the benefits and the care you’ve earned.
And now I want every member — every service member, every veteran, and every family member to know how to access the law.
Just go to VA.gov/PACT — VA.gov/PACT. File their claim and apply for your VA healthcare now. Or go to your local VA hospital. Or reach out to the veterans service organizations, many of whom made this happen as well, from the Disabled Veterans Americans — the Disabled American Veterans, to the American Legion, to Veterans of Foreign War. And if you need additional assistance — if you need additional assistance, just call. Call.
And this law becomes on top of my administration’s efforts to pioneer new ways to link toxic exposure to diseases and help more veterans get the care they need.
We’re building a more comprehensive database for the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to track and assess exposures. Expand the eligibility for veterans suffering from the three respiratory conditions and nine rare respiratory cancers.
Earlier this summer, I signed nine veterans bills into law that will do everything from providing mammograms and screenings
for veterans who served near burn pits, to compensating veterans who developed cancer and medical conditions from our World War Two nuclear program. We’re not stopping just here.
Secretary McDonough and the Department of Veterans Affairs are part of my Cancer Moonshot initiative to end cancer as we know it. And today I’m proud to name Dr. Monica Berta- — I’m going to get it right, Doc — (laughter) — Bertal- — Bet- —
DR. BERTAGNOLLI: Bertagnolli.
THE PRESIDENT: Bertagnolli. (Laughter.) I better get it right because I married Dominic Giacoppa’s daughter. (Laughter.) So, I got a problem, okay? (Laughter.)
But you’re — she’s a leading cancer surg- — surgeon from a family of generations of veterans and is my new director of the National Cancer Institute. Please stand, Doc. (Applause.)
And they’re all working as one team. We may be in separate departments, but it’s one team. And perhaps one of the most important things we’re doing is working to bring down the rate of suicide among service members and veterans.
An average of 17 veterans die by suicide every single day — 17. It’s an absolute tragedy. It demands not only a whole-of-government approach, but a whole-of-country working together.
So, let me close with this: As Commander in Chief, I will always have your back. I promise you.
That includes finally delivering justice to Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s leader and bin Laden’s deputy during 9/11, and is inclu- — (applause) — it includes — it includes always fighting for the care and benefits you’ve more than earned and more than deserve.
This law — this law is long overdue, but we finally got it done together. Together.
And I don’t want to hear the press tell me Democrats and Republicans can’t work together. We got it done, and we got it done together.
So, God bless you all. You are the backbone, the very spine of this country. And may God protect our troops.
Now I’m going to walk over and sign that legislation. (Applause.)
(Addressing Brielle Robinson.) You ready?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Sir, you’re blocking the President.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s okay. (Laughter.)
All right. (Inaudible.)
(The bill is signed.) (Applause.)
10:30 A.M. EDT