As wars rage in Europe and the Middle East, President Joe Biden is marking Veterans Day at home with a series of new actions intended to lower health care costs for those who served the nation and protect them from scams.
“Altogether these new actions will help us keep our sacred obligations to veterans and their loved ones,” White House Domestic Policy Advisor Neera Tanden told reporters on a call regarding Friday’s announcements. “They speak to the president's laser focus on increasing care and benefits for veterans.”
As part of that bid, on Friday, Biden is announcing all living World War II veterans will be eligible for no-cost health care under the Department of Veterans Affairs, which includes costs for nursing home services. The VA will also pay for care associated with Parkinson’s disease for family members of veterans who were exposed to chemicals at Camp Lejeune — the North Carolina Marine Corpss base which was found to have contaminated water for more than 30 years.
“We want anyone who may be living with this disease or any of the many conditions covered by our Camp Lejeune Family Member Program to apply for assistance today,” Department of Veterans Affairs Deputy Secretary Tanya Bradsher told reporters on the call.
The department is also launching a full-force campaign seeking to teach veterans about the benefits available to them and encourage them to sign up, with ads on TV, digital, billboards, social media platforms and more.
“The campaign will use actual cost comparisons to show these veterans that VA can help them stay healthy, go to school, get a job and buy a home, all while saving them tens of thousands of dollars,” Bradsher added.
Meanwhile the Biden administration is also looking to take on an issue it says has cost veterans and their families more than $414 million: fraud and scams.
“Last year, there were 93,000 fraud claims against vets and their families,” Tanden said. “We have to say, it's truly outrageous that people would target veterans who have served our country.”
In response, the president is launching a Veteran Scam and Fraud Evasion task force that will release a toolkit with tips on preventing such events; post video teaching veterans about different types of fraud; designate the Federal Trade Commission to act as the head recipient on reports from veterans on fraud and more. It will also seek to hear directly from those who served, conducting 10 listening sessions in highly targeted areas and issuing a call for information on veterans' experiences buying cars – which the Federal Trade Commission has identified as an experience with heightened risk of fraud.
Administration officials billed the announcements focused on veterans as “a central pillar of the president's unity agenda” – the four-pronged agenda Biden laid out in his first State of the Union address, with the pitch they were issues all Americans and both parties could come together on.
But the topic of veterans care is also deeply personal for Biden. He’s long believed that the brain cancer that took the life of his eldest son, Beau, was caused by exposure to burn pits while he served overseas in the Delaware National Guard.
And this Veterans Day, the president is also seeking to tout his work thus far, particularly the PACT Act, which he signed just more than a year ago. The bill — which passed with bipartisan support — intends to improve health care and disability compensation for exposure to toxic substances, including burn pits that were used to dispose of trash on military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.
To date, the act has granted benefits to more than 505,000 of those who were exposed to toxic substances while serving, according to the White House.
The administration is also emphasizing its approach to reducing veteran suicide and homelessness, saying it has provided community-based organizations with $105 million in grants for programs on suicide and $1 billion in funding to help homeless veterans.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.