WASHINGTON -- President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan bill aiding veterans exposed to toxic burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan into law Wednesday morning, calling the PACT Act "the most significant law our nation has ever passed" to help veterans.
"Today, we're one step closer of fulfilling that sacred obligation with the bill I'm about to sign into law," Biden said. "This is the most significant law our nation has ever passed to help millions of veterans who are exposed to toxic substances during their military services."
The issue is personal for the president, who has previously suspected that his son Beau's brain cancer was linked to burn pits while he served in Iraq.
"Veterans of the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan not only face dangers in battle, they were breathing toxic smoke from burn pits," he said. "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 was in attendance for the signing, and the president singled him out as he spoke directly to 9-year-old Brielle Robinson, whose father died from lung cancer believed to have been caused by burn pits exposure.
"You see the little guy who's sitting right next to you, that's my grandson, his daddy lost to the same burn pits," he said. "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 a hard taking care of mommy and grandma, but you got to do it."
Biden called the nation's veterans the "backbone," "steel" and "very fiber that makes this country what it is."
"The PACT Act is the least we can do for the countless men and women, many of whom may be in this room, for all I know, who suffered toxic exposure while serving their country," he said. "The law expands access to health care and disability benefits for veterans harmed by toxic exposure. It empowers the Department of Veterans Affairs to move quickly to determine service members' illness and related military service to see if they qualify him and for families of veterans who died from toxic exposure."
It is another bipartisan win for the president, and he noted the effort it took for Democrats and Republicans to come together to get this legislation done.
"This law is long overdue, but we finally got it done together," he said. "Together. I don't want to hear the press tell me Democrats, Republicans can't work together. We got it done, and we got it done together."
Biden also made a point of thanking Jon Stewart for his tireless advocacy on this issue.
"What you've done matters," he told him, as Stewart received a standing ovation. "It really really matters, and we owe you big."
And after signing the bill and handing Robinson the pen, as her mother wiped away tears, Biden walked off stage and went directly to his grandson, Beau's son Hunter, giving him a hug.
"I was going to get this done come hell or high water," Biden said.
He added that as a nation, we have "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."