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What Health Care Benefits Are Available to Veterans Under the VA’s PACT Act?

Veterans in combat zones since Vietnam, or exposed to toxins are eligible


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Veterans who were exposed to burn pits may submit a PACT Act claim to receive benefits.
REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo

In what was described as one of the largest benefit expansions in the history of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the PACT Act is estimated to provide additional benefits and health services to millions of 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, addresses veterans with toxic exposures from the Vietnam, Gulf War and post-9/11 eras.

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Since it was signed into law in August 2022, the VA has conducted over 5 million toxic exposure screenings and approved nearly 800,000 benefits claims at a 75 percent approval rate, according to the VA’s PACT Act performance dashboard.

What does the PACT Act provide?

  • All veterans who served in combat zones since the Vietnam War, along with veterans who were exposed to hazardous materials while training or on active duty may enroll directly in VA health care without first applying for VA benefits. Meaning any veteran who participated in what the VA terms a toxic exposure risk activity (TERA) is eligible. The category includes veterans exposed to air pollutants including burn pits, sand and dust; chemicals including pesticides, herbicides, depleted uranium and contaminated water; occupational hazards including asbestos, lead and firefighting foams; radiation; warfare agents including chemical and biological weapons; and more.
  • There is no deadline for eligible veterans to enroll directly in VA health care. However, the VA encourages veterans to apply now so they have access to care when they need it.
  • 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 the 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
  • 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

  • Post-9/11 veterans who served in any combat zone are eligible for VA health care. If you were never deployed but were exposed to toxins or other hazards means you’re eligible too.
  • These cancers are 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.
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What does the PACT Act mean for Vietnam-era veterans?

  • Any veteran who served in the Vietnam War is eligible to enroll in VA health care without first applying for VA benefits.
  • 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 VA benefits are available to survivors?

Survivors of newly eligible service members may be eligible for the following benefits:

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How to file a disability claim for an 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.
  • Any veteran who thinks they are eligible is encouraged to submit their claim now.

Additional info

The VA is launching a campaign to enroll as many veterans as possible, and it already has held more than 2,500 events nationwide to inform veterans about the PACT Act, the agency said. More information about the act and eligibility can be found at VA.gov/PACT or by calling 1-800-MYVA411.

Editor’s note: This article, originally published Aug. 4, 2022, has been updated with new information.

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