Fact Check

Did Beau Biden Die While Serving in Iraq?

U.S. President Joe Biden has stated on more than one occasion that his son lost his life in Iraq.

Published May 24, 2023

 (Lt. Col. Deanna Bague/Wikimedia Commons)
Image Via Lt. Col. Deanna Bague/Wikimedia Commons
Claim:
Beau Biden, U.S. President Joe Biden’s son, died while serving in the military in Iraq.
Context

Biden falsely stated that his son Beau Biden died in Iraq, even though Beau actually died from brain cancer in 2015, six years after he returned from his military service. Biden himself has been open about his son’s death from brain cancer, so the "died in Iraq" statement was made in error. However, Biden has attributed Beau’s brain cancer to his exposure to toxic burn pits while he was serving in Iraq.

In May 2023, while meeting with U.S. armed forces stationed in Japan, U.S. President Joe Biden reportedly said that he lost his son Beau Biden while the latter was serving in Iraq. This claim soon led to criticism from the news media, as well as questions around Biden's mental fitness.

In the clip, which was shared by the New York Post, Biden can be overheard saying: "My son was a major in the U.S. army. We lost him in Iraq."  

This statement was made in error. Beau Biden died from brain cancer in 2015 while receiving treatment at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland, where he died. Beau had served in Iraq in 2008 and 2009.

Biden has spoken accurately about his son's death and the circumstances around it. On May 30, 2022, while speaking on Memorial Day, he said, "As I said, seven years ago today, our son, Major Beau Biden, took his last breath at Walter Reed. A major in the Delaware Army National Guard, he insisted on deploying to Iraq with his unit for a year when he was attorney general. [...] He didn't die in the line of duty. He came home from Iraq with cancer. It was a horrific cancer that stole us from him, stole — and him from us."

The incorrect claim he made in May 2023 was a slip-up— and one he has made before. In October 2022, he said, "I say this as a father of a man who won the Bronze Star, the Conspicuous Service Medal, and lost his life in Iraq."

In a November 2022 speech, Biden said, "I'm thinking of Iraq because that's where my son died."

Biden has linked Beau's brain cancer to potential exposure to toxic burn pits in Iraq and Kosovo where he served. In 2016, a year after Beau's death, during a roundtable on cancer and the firefighters of 9/11, Biden shared a book titled "The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America's Soldiers." The book also had an account of Beau's time in service and his exposure to the pits, where military waste was burnt. While neither the author nor Biden could prove the explicit connection between Beau's exposure to the pits and his brain cancer, veterans groups have often linked their various ailments to the burn pits.

After reading the chapter on his son, Biden told the roundtable, "Guys, I'm going to be the biggest pain in your neck as long as I live, until we figure out about these burn pits."

In a 2018 interview with PBS News Hour, Biden said of the role of burn pits in increasing cancer risk, "Science has recognized there are certain carcinogens when people are exposed to them. Depending on the quantities and the amount in the water and the air, [they] can have a carcinogenic impact on the body."

He described being "stunned" to read the chapter on his son in the book "The Burn Pits." He acknowledged that, "There is yet to be—that I'm aware of—any direct scientific evidence that a particular person came back with a lot higher incidence of cancer coming from Iraq now and Afghanistan, than in other wars."

Biden has mistakenly stated that Beau died in Iraq, while also stating the true circumstances of his son's death in other instances. Beau died of cancer while in Maryland, years after he had left Iraq.

Sources

"Biden Addresses Possible Link between Son's Fatal Brain Cancer and Toxic Military Burn Pits." PBS News Hour, Jan. 10, 2018, www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMp1SU7jvg0. Accessed 24 May 2023.

"Biden Again Claimed Son Beau Died "in Iraq" to Marines at Japan Stop." New York Post, 22 May 2023, https://nypost.com/2023/05/22/biden-again-claimed-son-beau-died-in-iraq-to-marines-at-japan-stop/. Accessed 24 May 2023.

"Biden Again Wrongly Says Son Beau Died in Iraq in Stumbling Florida Speech." New York Post, 1 Nov. 2022, https://nypost.com/2022/11/01/biden-again-wrongly-says-son-beau-died-in-iraq-in-stumbling-florida-speech/. Accessed 24 May 2023.

 "Remarks by President Biden at the 154th National Memorial Day Observance." The White House, 30 May 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2022/05/30/remarks-by-president-biden-at-the-154th-national-memorial-day-observance/. Accessed 24 May 2023.

"Remarks By President Biden On Protecting And Conserving America's Iconic Outdoor Spaces." The White House, 12 Oct. 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2022/10/12/remarks-by-president-biden-on-protecting-and-conserving-americas-iconic-outdoor-spaces/. Accessed 24 May 2023.

"Remarks by President Biden on Protecting Social Security and Medicare and Lowering Prescription Drug Costs." The White House, 2 Nov. 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2022/11/01/remarks-by-president-biden-on-protecting-social-security-and-medicare-and-lowering-prescription-drug-costs/. Accessed 24 May 2023.

Neuman, Scott. "Beau Biden, Vice President's Son, Remembered In Delaware Service." NPR, 6 June 2015. NPR, https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/06/06/412458537/beau-biden-vice-presidents-son-remembered-in-delaware-service. Accessed 24 May 2023.

Shear, Michael D. "Beau Biden, Vice President Joe Biden's Son, Dies at 46." The New York Times, 31 May 2015. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/31/us/politics/joseph-r-biden-iii-vice-presidents-son-beau-dies-at-46.html. Accessed 24 May 2023.

"Vice President's Son Beau Biden Dies at 46 of Brain Cancer." AP NEWS, https://apnews.com/article/-----d8f69eb645d74b7886387f713981b739. Accessed 24 May 2023.

Viser, Matt. "Biden Wonders Publicly Whether Burn Pits Caused His Son's Death. Activists Want Him to Do More on the Issue." Washington Post, 28 Nov. 2021. www.washingtonpost.com, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-beau-burn-pits/2021/11/27/894b382a-4973-11ec-b8d9-232f4afe4d9b_story.html. Accessed 24 May 2023.

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.