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In what is being described as one of the largest benefit expansions in the history of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the PACT Act is poised to provide additional benefits and health services to over 5 million veterans.
The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, named after a decorated combat medic who died from a rare form of lung cancer, specifically addresses veterans with toxic exposures during the Vietnam, Gulf War and post 9/11 eras.
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Since the legislation was passed on Aug. 8, 2022, the VA has processed 74,118 PACT Act-related applications out of the 246,688 it received. The department is prioritizing claims related to cancer and terminal illness.
Since early December, the VA has provided 1,288,665 toxic exposure screenings at VA health administration facilities. If a veteran’s health is found to be at risk, they are put in contact with the VA benefits administration to determine if they are eligible for additional assistance.
Among the benefits included in the measure:
- 20 more illnesses are now considered presumptive conditions for burn pit and other toxic exposures, meaning veterans will not have to prove that their service caused their condition. This reduces the paperwork required and need for a disability exam before being granted access to health care and compensation. The list includes 11 respiratory related conditions and several forms of cancer. Survivors of veterans who died due to one of these conditions may also be eligible for benefits.
- Additional presumptive exposure locations for Vietnam era veterans
- The enrollment period to join VA health care expands. Post 9/11 combat veterans may enroll within 10 years of their discharge date instead of five. For other veterans, a one-year open enrollment period is made to join VA health care without having to demonstrate a service-connected disability.
- VA will provide a toxic exposure screening to every veteran enrolled in VA health care.
- Improvements to research, staff education, outreach and treatment related to toxic exposures
Impact on Gulf War and post-9/11 veterans
- These cancers are newly considered presumptive conditions: Brain, glioblastoma, kidney, melanoma, neck and pancreatic cancers, along with any type of cancer that is gastrointestinal, head-related, lymphatic, lymphoma, reproductive and respiratory.
- Other conditions presumed to be connected to service: Asthma diagnosed after service, chronic bronchitis, chronic COPD, chronic rhinitis, chronic sinusitis, constrictive or obliterative bronchiolitis, emphysema, granulomatous disease, interstitial lung disease, pleuritis, pulmonary fibrosis and sarcoidosis.
- Post-9/11 veterans who served in these locations are presumed to have been exposed to burn pit toxins: Afghanistan, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Uzbekistan, Yemen — and any airspace above these locations.
- Gulf War and post-9/11 era veterans who served in these locations are presumed to have been exposed to burn pits: Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, the UAE — and any airspace above these countries.
What does the measure mean for Vietnam-era veterans?
- New presumptive conditions for Agent Orange include high blood pressure and monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance.
- Veterans who served at an additional five locations are now assumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange if they served during specified dates.
- Veterans who were a part of response efforts in three locations are now assumed to have been exposed to radiation if they served during specific dates.
What is available to survivors?
Survivors of newly eligible service members may be eligible for the following benefits:
- Dependency and indemnity compensation
- A one-time accrued benefits payment
- Health care through the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA)
- A burial allowance for help with a veteran’s funeral costs and burial costs for qualifying spouses, partners or children
How to file a disability claim for a newly eligible condition
- Full details and eligibility information related to the PACT Act may be accessed at VA.gov/PACT or by calling 800-MyVA411 (698-2411).
- Claims can be filed online, by mail, in person or with the help of a trained professional from a Veteran Service Organization (VSO).
- Claims for conditions that were denied in the past but are now considered presumptive should be filed through a supplemental claim.
Visit AARP.org/PactAct for an overview of the new benefits and health services offered by the VA to more than 5 million Vietnam, Gulf War and post-9/11 veterans. You can also find information on how to get started with filing a claim.
Editor’s note: This article, originally published Aug. 2, 2022, has been updated with new information.