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Recent Combat Veterans Must Enroll in VA Health as PACT Act Deadline Nears

Veterans never enrolled in VA health care have until Oct. 1

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

Veterans who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and other recent combat zones may enroll directly in VA health care without first applying for benefits by 11:59 p.m. local time on Sept. 30 as part of the PACT Act. 

The special enrollment period is part of the largest expansion of Veterans Affairs benefits in decades. Since the PACT Act was signed into law on Aug. 10, 2022, more than 344,000 veterans have enrolled in VA health care and more than 4.2 million have been screened for toxic exposures. 

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The deadline applies to the following veterans of active-duty service in:

  • A theater of combat operations during a period of war after the Persian Gulf War.
  • Combat against a hostile force during a period of hostilities after Nov. 11, 1998.

And both of these must apply:

  • You were discharged or released between Sept. 11, 2001, and Oct. 1, 2013.
  • You haven't enrolled in VA health care before.

Although the deadline applies to this specific group, veterans from other eras, including most who served in Vietnam and the Gulf War and those who transitioned out of the service less than 10 years ago, may enroll directly in VA health care without first applying for VA benefits. Veterans who do not meet this criteria may still be eligible for VA health by filing for benefits based on income or if they have a service-connected health condition.

What does the PACT Act provide?

The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, named after a decorated combat medic who died of a rare form of lung cancer, specifically addresses veterans with toxic exposures during the Vietnam War, Gulf War and post-9/11 eras.

But be aware, scammers are targeting veterans through email, phone and social media to gain access to their benefits or to file claims on their behalf.

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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 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
  • 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.
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What does the PACT-Act 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:

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 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.

Visit for an overview of the 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. 4, 2022, has been updated with new information.

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