Biden's State of the Union expected to take on tobacco use, veteran suicides, opioid epidemic
During last year's State of the Union address, President Biden announced his four-part Unity Agenda: ending cancer, taking better care of veterans, tackling a national mental health crisis and squashing America's opioid epidemic. Tonight, he will give the people a progress report on those agenda items.
Ahead of the State of the Union on Tuesday night, the White House released some of the advancements the administration has made on the president's ambitious agenda.
Nearly 30 new federal cancer programs in the past year
Last year, the president and first lady announced that they were revamping the Cancer Moonshot initiative, with the goal of cutting cancer-related deaths in half over the next 25 years. To help meet that goal, Cancer Moonshot has announced almost 30 new programs, policies and resources over the past year.
The reignition of the program aims to close the cancer screening gap, tackle environmental exposures, decrease preventable cancers and promote advanced research, all while supporting patients and caregivers. And, according to the White House, more than 60 private companies, nonprofits, patient groups and academic institutions have stepped up to answer the president's call.
In the years ahead, Biden will ask Congress to reauthorize the National Cancer Act, which established the National Cancer Institute 52 years ago, to update America's cancer research and care systems. The administration also says it will ensure that patient navigation services are a covered benefit for as many people as possible.
And though the plan doesn't dive into the specifics, the president wants to tackle smoking, which the American Cancer Society says is responsible for almost 30% of all cancer deaths in the U.S.
"While we have made progress, tobacco products still hook too many young people at an early age and take control away from individual Americans to make the decision not to smoke," the White House said. "The Administration is working to put that control back in the hands of Americans."
Expanding veteran benefits and the continued fight against suicide
The Veterans Administration processed 1.7 million claims in 2022, more than any other year on record, the White House said, and delivered a total of $128 billion in benefits to over 6 million veterans. Biden also expanded benefits for veterans, their families and caregivers through the passage of the PACT Act, which also addresses the needs of service members exposed to toxic burn pits and other substances.
Biden says he plans to continue fulfilling what he calls a "sacred obligation" to America's service members, including the ongoing fight against veteran suicide.
More than 71,000 have died by suicide since 2010, more than the number of deaths in America's wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan combined, the White House said. And though the number of veteran suicides is on the decline, any number greater than zero is too many, which is why Biden plans to work with states and territories to improve veteran resources to identify suicide risks, provide counseling and expand outreach efforts.
The Biden administration also hopes to tackle veteran homelessness by providing more housing for extremely-low income veterans.
"Every veteran should have a roof over their head," the White House said. "The President's upcoming budget will triple the number of extremely low-income veterans who can access the assistance they need to afford rent over the years ahead."
Investing critical resources to address a national mental health crisis
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit focusing on national health issues, 90% of Americans believe mental health is a national crisis as of 2022. Some 40% of adults are reporting symptoms of depression and anxiety, and the number of children experiencing those symptoms has climbed nearly 30% between 2016 and 2020.
Biden and his team have worked to address these issues by expanding behavioral health clinics and investing in America's 988 suicide prevention hotline over the past year. Tuesday night, the president will talk about how he plans to continue that work by protecting kids online through healthier social media practices.
He also wants to crack down on tech companies collecting consumer data and using algorithms to "discriminate against Americans and sow division."
As for adults, the president plans to push for better mental health support for the workforce. On average it takes over a decade for an individual to get the help they need to address mental health issues. Biden wants to ensure that insurance companies treat mental health the same as patients' physical health.
Working with international leaders to crush the opioid epidemic
Opioid addiction and overdoses affect Americans across the political spectrum and in all communities, which is why Biden pledged to bring an end the epidemic. And though opioid deaths have been on the decline, the figures remain staggeringly high, the White House said.
Biden plans on tackling the trafficking and distribution of fentanyl — a pain management drug 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine — by cracking down on security at the country's southwest border ports of entry. Custom and Border Patrol agents seized 260,000 pounds of drugs at the border last year, including almost 15,000 pounds of fentanyl. The White House is sending 123 large-scale scanners to the border to inspect passenger and cargo vehicles.
And to address the problem at its source, Biden will work with international partners to seize chemical ingredients used to produce fentanyl outside U.S. borders. He will also push for tough penalties for fentanyl-related crimes.
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