Motivated by his son Beau, Joe Biden pledges help for veterans with burn pit health issues – CBS News

Throughout his presidential campaign, one of the most striking elements of Joe Biden‘s appeal has been his empathy. The personal tragedies he has suffered inform his interactions with voters who are also experiencing loss. And his sorrow could also guide policy decisions as commander-in-chief, offering assistance to veterans who may be suffering from service-related medical conditions — as he believes his son did. 

With a familiar quiver in his voice, Biden regularly on the campaign trail shares memories of his son Beau, who died in 2015 from glioblastoma brain cancer. A handful of times Biden detailed how he thinks his son’s cancer may have been related in part to the large, military base burn pits during his 2009 service in the Iraq War.

“He volunteered to join the National Guard at age 32 because he thought he had an obligation to go,” Biden told a Service Employees International Union convention in October. “And because of exposure to burn pits — in my view, I can’t prove it yet — he came back with Stage Four glioblastoma.”

Biden’s precise language — “in my view, I can’t prove it yet” — appears to be intentional as he lends his voice to the ongoing and somewhat controversial debate over whether the burn pits caused lasting health issues for American veterans.

“We don’t have 20 years”  

As the Iraq and Afghanistan military operations grew, so did the installations of bigger burn pits on military bases, rather than the smaller burn barrels that had previously been used. The pits were meant to dispose of everything from garbage to sensitive documents and even more hazardous materials. 

“They build as big as this auditorium,” Biden said to a CNN town hall audience in February, “It’s about 8-to-10-feet-deep and they put everything in it they want to dispose of and can’t leave behind, from flammable fuel to plastics to all range of things.”

But in the middle of a war zone, concern about the burn pits was sometimes considered secondary to other safety issues. 

“You’ve got dust storms, you have the enemy, you have all sorts of things going on that some smoke in the air doesn’t really seem like as important of an issue at the moment,” Jim Mowrer, who befriended Beau at Camp Victory in Iraq in 2009, told CBS News. Other times, Mowrer, 34, who now serves as co-chair for the Veterans for Biden committee, said he tried to filter the air by wearing a face covering.

“The concern factor became more of a concern after we came home,” Beau’s overseas boss, Command JAG Kathy Amalfitano, 59, told CBS News. Amalfitano said she remembers discussing the burn pits with Beau a few times, but added “I know our thought process was that this was part of the deployment.”

Biden is not alone in thinking burn pits impacted soldiers’ health.

Since 2014, more than 200,000 Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans have registered in the “Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry” run by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), detailing exposure to service-related airborne hazards from burn pit smoke and other pollution.

And while these veteran health concerns seem widespread, the VA’s policy only recognizes “temporary” irritation from burn pit exposure. Citing a range of studies, the department states that “research does not show evidence of long-term health problems from exposure to burn pits.”

One ongoing study is by National Jewish Health and funded by the Defense Department, and is examining lung issues and has yielded “a spectrum of diseases that are related to deployment,” the study’s principal investigator Dr. Cecile Rose told CBS News last year. ” [The diseases] weren’t there before, and they are clearly there after people have returned from these arid and extreme environments.” However, Rose cautioned that findings are complicated by other possible culprits, like desert dust and diesel exhaust.

Advocates for veterans say not enough is being done to address veterans’ health claims regarding the burn pits.

From 2007 to 2018, the VA processed 11,581 disability compensation claims that had “at least one condition related to burn pit exposure,” a department spokesman told The New York Times last year. But the department only accepted 2,318 of these claims. The department said the rest did not show evidence connected to military service or the condition in the claim was not “officially diagnosed,” the Times noted. 

The VA did not respond to CBS News’ request this week for updated numbers.

“I always push back on…the VA administration folks who try to use the ‘perfect study’ as a criteria to show proof,” California Representative Raul Ruiz, a doctor and vocal burn pits critic, told CBS News. Ruiz criticized the VA’s reliance on long-term studies to validate clams. 

“We don’t have 20 years because then these veterans are going to be dying without the care they need,” Ruiz said.

A report five years ago by a Defense Department inspector general said it was “indefensible” that military personnel “were put at further risk from the potentially harmful emissions from the use of open-air burn pits.” But the Supreme Court last year rejected a victims’ lawsuit against contractors who oversaw some of the burn pits.

“If these [burn pits] had happened in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease and Control would have this corrected immediately,” said Iraq War veteran Jeremy Daniels, adding he believes burn pits caused him to be wheelchair bound.

Modern-day “Agent Orange”?

Biden on the campaign trail invoked the healthcare struggles of Vietnam veterans exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange to explain the need to address burn pits.

“You were entitled to military compensation if you could prove that Agent Orange caused whatever the immune system damage was to you,” Biden said, accenting the word “prove” during a Veterans Day town hall in Oskaloosa, Iowa. “But you had to prove it and it’s very hard to prove.”

After reading a book on burn pits detailing Beau’s case, Biden has advocated easing this burden of proof for veterans who say the burn pits have harmed them in some way, as he first told PBS.

Biden has a plan that pushes for congressional approval to expand the list of “presumptive conditions”– meaning veterans’ health conditions would be presumed causal to the burn pits making them eligible for greater VA healthcare. He also aims to expand the claim eligibility period for toxic exposure conditions to five years after service instead of one year and increase federal research by $300 million in part to focus on toxic exposure from burn pits.

This push has intensified in recent years on Capitol Hill, and bills funding more research into burn pits have already been signed by President Trump. The recent National Defense Authorization Act also required the Department of Defense to implement a plan to phase out burn pits and disclose the locations of the still-operating pits. Enclosed incinerators are an alternative.

There were nine active military burn pits in the Middle East as of last year, according to the Defense Department’s April 2019 “Open Burn Pit Report to Congress” shared with CBS News, though some advocates think the actual number is higher. 

Some veterans expressed doubt that recent efforts will lead to more aid for veterans exposed to burn pits, given the slow-moving bureaucracy and concern over higher health care costs. And others question whether a Biden administration would act more decisively than the Obama administration, which primarily focused on long-term studies.

But Biden says that his motivation is far greater than his family’s own personal loss, and that the “only sacred” commitment the United States has is to American soldiers.

“It’s not because my son died…[he] went from very, very healthy but he lived in the bloom of those burn pits for a long time. He’s passed—it doesn’t affect him,” Biden said in Oskaloosa. “But the point is that every single veteran shouldn’t have to prove and wait until science demonstrates beyond a doubt…We just have to change the way we think a little bit.”

May 30 will mark the five-year anniversary of Beau Biden’s death.

This content was originally published here.

Ontario’s health minister shopped at Toronto LCBO while awaiting COVID-19 test results | CP24.com

Ontario’s health minister says she was following the advice of medical professionals when she decided to shop at a Toronto LCBO on Wednesday afternoon while awaiting her COVID-19 test results.

Health Minister Christine Elliott and Premier Doug Ford, who have since tested negative for the virus, underwent COVID-19 testing on Wednesday after learning that the province’s education minister, Stephen Lecce, had earlier come in contact with someone who tested positive for the virus.

Ford and Elliott, who had held a joint press conference with Lecce one day earlier, decided to skip their daily briefing at Queen’s Park on Wednesday afternoon out of an abundance of caution.

Elliott also cancelled an appearance at a Brampton mobile testing site that was scheduled for 3 p.m.

Lecce released a statement shortly before 2 p.m. on Wednesday confirming that his test results had come back negative and about an hour-and-a-half later, Elliott was seen shopping at an LCBO near Dupont Street and Spadina Avenue.

A photo sent to CP24 shows Elliott, who is wearing a surgical mask, standing beside a basket and looking at the store’s VQA wine selection.

“Minister Lecce’s results came back negative before I went for testing and so while there was no real need for me to go to be tested, I had made a public commitment to do so and so that’s where I went,” Elliott told reporters at Queen’s Park on Thursday.

“I went and while I was at the assessment centre having the test, I was advised that because I had not directly been in contact with anyone with COVID that I did not need to self-isolate…That was the medical advice I was given and that is what I did and my test results came back negative of course.”

Elliott and Ford returned to Queen’s Park for their daily COVID-19 update on Thursday afternoon.

“To be clear, both Premier Ford and Minister Elliott have had no known contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19, and as a result, there is no need for either of them to self-isolate,” a statement from the premier’s office read.

“They will continue to follow public health guidelines.”

Lecce’s office confirmed Thursday that he will continue to self-isolate.

“Minister Lecce is feeling well and continues to work from home. He is following the advice of his doctor by continuing to monitor for any symptoms,” a statement from the education minister’s office read.

“Out of an abundance of caution, although the exposure risk was extremely low, he will be self-isolating for the remainder of the 14 days since the time of exposure, on June 6. The Minister again would like to offer his sincere thanks to the team at UHN and everyone yesterday who sent positive thoughts and messages.”

Public health experts have cautioned that negative test results are not always an indication that a person isn’t infected with the virus, especially when tests are conducted a short time after exposure.

Those who have tested negative for the virus are still advised to monitor for symptoms as the virus has an incubation period of 14 days.

“As we outlined our testing criteria at the assessment centres… if you have signs and symptoms and you’re suspected of being a COVID case, you will get your test and then you are supposed to stay in self-isolation until you get results,” Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said at a news conference on Thursday.

“Other criteria, you say, ‘Well, I was in contact with a known positive.’ That is another reason to get tested and you still have to self-isolate until you get that result back, including people who say, ‘Well I’m not sure but I was in a highly risky area, I don’t know.’’”

He noted that the rules are different for people who are not experiencing symptoms of the virus and have not been in contact with a known case.

“Testing asymptomatic people… say 5,000 workers, none of them have symptoms, none of them are cases, we are not going to say all 5,000 wait for five, six days to get results back. They just continue going to work because it is asymptomatic testing,” he added.

“They have no signs and symptoms, they have no contact with a case, no possible contact with a case, and there is no evidence of an outbreak. So it is a different situation altogether.”

This content was originally published here.

Machine learning helps Invisalign patients find their perfect smile | CIO

Machine learning helps Invisalign patients find their perfect smile

Align Technology’s mobile app helps Invisalign wearers stay on schedule, while machine learning and other features help lure prospective consumers to try the orthodontic device.

The mobile computing trend requires enterprises to meet consumers’ expectations for accessing information and completing tasks from a smartphone. But there’s a converse to that arrangement: Mobile has also become the go-to digital platform companies use to market their goods and services.

Align Technology, which offers the Invisalign orthodontic device to straighten teeth, is embracing the trend with a mobile platform that both helps patients coordinate care with their doctors and entices new customers. The My Invisalign app includes detailed content on how the Invisalign system works, as well as machine learning (ML) technology to simulate what wearers’ smiles will look like after using the medical device.

“It’s a natural extension to help doctors and patients stay in touch,” says Align Technology Chief Digital Officer Sreelakshmi Kolli, who joined the company as a software engineer in 2003 and has spent the past few years digitizing the customer experience and business operations. The development of My Invisalign also served as a pivot point for Kolli to migrate the company to agile and DevSecOps practices.

The pitch for a perfect smile

My Invisalign is a digital on-ramp for a company that has relied on pitches from enthusiastic dentists and pleased patients to help Invisalign find a home in the mouths of more than 8 million customers. An alternative to clunky metal braces, Invisalign comprises sheer plastic aligners that straighten patients’ teeth gradually over several months. Invisalign patients swear by the device, but many consumers remain on the fence about a device with a $3,000 to $5,000 price range that is rarely covered completely by insurance.

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This content was originally published here.