Biden touts PACT Act milestone as he focuses his pitch on veterans

Biden touts PACT Act milestone as he focuses his pitch on veterans

NASHUA, N.H. — President Joe Biden kicked off a series of events Tuesday that will focus on members of the military by highlighting a bipartisan law he signed two years ago to help veterans who’ve been exposed to burn pits or other poisons more easily receive care.

Biden, in his second trip to New Hampshire this election year, marked a milestone for the PACT Act: Veterans Affairs’ approval of the 1 millionth claim under the law. He pointed to the data as evidence that he is following through with the country’s “sacred obligation” to take care of America’s veterans.

“You are the solid steel spine of our nation — and that’s not hyperbole,” Biden told a small audience that included veterans, their families and local officials.

“Just as you’ve done your duty to America,” he said, “we’re finally beginning to do our duty to you.”

While the legislation won Biden widespread praise from veterans in the audience, not all of them are ready to reward him with their votes in November because of it.

“The PACT Act is one of the most influential bills to affect veterans in probably the last 75 years,” Navy veteran Paul Lloyd said. But when he was asked whether he plans to vote for Biden for signing the law, Lloyd said that he’s “on the fence” and that taking care of veterans is a “bipartisan issue.”

For other veterans in the audience, however, Biden’s emotional tie to their experiences resonated and the achievement is worthy of their support. In talking about service members who’ve become ill after having been exposed to poisonous fumes while they were deployed, Biden recounted how his son Beau died of brain cancer in 2015. He often links the cancer to his son’s deployment to Iraq.

“My son Beau was one of those veterans,” Biden said Tuesday, a week shy of the ninth anniversary Beau’s death. “So this is personal to me and my family and to his family and his children.”

Jeff Zamoida, a Gulf War veteran and independent voter, called the reference “extremely moving” and said he plans to support Biden in November.

“The president’s personal loss and that connection, it speaks to every one of us that have been near the giant oil refineries that are burning and the stench for three to six months at a time,” Zamoida said.

According to the White House, 888,000 veterans have already received a combined $5.7 million in benefits under the PACT Act.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough said Tuesday that the law has helped the administration rebuild trust with veterans, some of whom have been frustrated by the red tape involved with pursuing benefits.

“The PACT Act has helped us bring [the] VA to vets rather than making them change their lives to come to us, transforming how we build trust with vets,” McDonough said.

Biden’s Republican opponent, former President Donald Trump, has seen some of his support from the military community erode. In 2016, Trump won 60% of voters who said at the time that they served in the military, according to NBC News exit polling data; that figure dropped to 54% in 2020. In 2020, Biden won 44% of voters who said they served in the military, according to the data.

Biden plans to continue highlighting veterans’ issues in the coming weeks with events at home and abroad.

He’s scheduled to participate in Memorial Day services at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Monday, days before his family is expected to privately mark the ninth anniversary of Beau Biden’s death.

A week later, Biden will travel to Normandy, France, to participate in ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. In France, Biden is expected to give a major speech about the heroism of Allied forces in World War II and the continued threats to democracy today.

His trip will be an opportunity for him to draw a contrast with a moment from Trump’s presidency, when the White House canceled a visit to a World War I cemetery in France, a senior Biden official said. According to reporting in The Atlantic, Trump referred to those buried there as “suckers” and “losers,” a sentiment Biden has often angrily denounced. 

Trump’s campaign has denied he said that, calling it “an old, tired lie” from Biden “to deflect from the fact that he is the weakest commander in chief in history.”

Biden has frequently criticized Trump over the alleged comments, saying of him last month in Pittsburgh, “He doesn’t deserve to be the commander in chief for my son.”

Biden plans to continue a strategy of courting veterans by criticizing Trump, as well as highlighting his own record in office, such as the PACT Act, in hope of winning over voters like John Barrett, who attended his event Tuesday.

Barrett, a Gulf War veteran, praised the PACT Act, particularly for expanding the number of medical conditions that are “finally recognized for folks that were exposed to burn pits and herbicides.”

But he, too, was noncommittal about voting for Biden. 

“I’m one of those people that I’m just going to be a spectator for a while,” Barrett said. “As I get closer, I’ll be able to go ahead and make a better decision at that point.”

Nnamdi Egwuonwu

Nnamdi Egwuonwu is a 2024 NBC News campaign embed.

Mike Memoli

Mike Memoli is an NBC News correspondent. 

Peter Alexander

Peter Alexander is chief White House correspondent for NBC News.

Olympia Sonnier

Olympia Sonnier is a field producer for NBC News.   » …
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