Danielle Robinson is the widow of Pickerington veteran Heath Robinson, who died in 2020 after battling lung cancer. Heath Robinson, a soldier twice recognized by the Ohio National Guard, attributed his illness to smoke exposure from burning trash pits during his deployment to Iraq in 2006 and 2007.
"They loved going to Ohio State football games," Biden said. "He loved building Legos with their daughter. But cancer from prolonged exposure to burn pits ravaged Heath’s lungs and body. Danielle says Heath was a fighter to the very end. He didn’t know how to stop fighting, and neither did she."
Robinson and her mother-in-law advocate for burn-pit victims who have been denied Veterans Administration benefits because the agency didn't believe their illnesses were service-related. Lawmakers including U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown pushed a bill named after Heath Robinson that would address the issue, but it never gained traction.
Biden, who believes his son Beau's cancer may have been caused by similar circumstances, called on Congress to pass legislation that would expand benefits and health care for veterans suffering from toxic exposure. He also said the Department of Veterans Affairs will add nine respiratory cancers to the list of eligible conditions.
"Heath should have been the person invited to the State of the Union address during his battle and fight, not me," Robinson said in a statement issued by Brown's office. "Since he is no longer here with us, I am honored to be the person sitting for him and all his brothers and sisters in our military family who are affected by toxic exposure to burn pits."
Also in attendance Tuesday was Refynd Duro, a Galloway resident and progressive care nurse at Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. According to the White House, Duro has been treating patients with COVID-19 since the pandemic's onset. As a bedside nurse, she advocates for bedside nurses and patient safety.
Haley BeMiller is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.
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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: State of the Union: Late veteran, burn pit victim Heath Robinson honored