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VA Expanding Cancer Screenings, Health Care Benefits for Gulf War, Post-9/11 Veterans

Move to be implemented in the next 90 days


spinner image news clippings and images of toxic burn pits on a red background
PAUL SPELLA (SOURCE IMAGES: LEFT TO RIGHT: GETTY IMAGES; STUART LUTZ/GADO/GETTY IMAGES; GETTY IMAGES; GOVINGO.GOV; SOLIDER: SENIOR AIRMAN JULIANNE SHOWALTER/USAF/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS; FIRE: CPL. ALFRED V. LOPEZ/U.S. MARINES/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS; GETTY IMAGES)

The Department of Veteran Affairs is expanding its cancer prevention services, health care and other benefits for veterans who served in the Gulf War and after 9/11, it announced March 8.

Within the next 90 days, the VA will consider urethral cancer a presumptive condition for veterans deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Uzbekistan and the entire Southwest Asia theater of operations. This means affected veterans will be eligible to receive benefits without having to provide evidence that their condition is directly linked to their military service.

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The department will also be evaluating whether there is a “relationship between urinary bladder and ureteral cancers and toxic exposures” for the same segment of veterans, according to the press announcement.

By the end of the year, VA plans to offer genetic lung and colorectal cancer screenings. As part of this effort, every VA medical facility will have a lung cancer screening program and provide colorectal cancer tests that can be completed at home.

Millions recently given VA health care access

All veterans who have served in combat zones since the Vietnam War, along with veterans who were exposed to hazardous materials while training or on active duty, recently became eligible to enroll directly in health care from the VA.

The move speeds up the path toward expanded benefits, mandated by the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act that President Joe Biden signed into law in August 2022.

“If you’re a veteran who may have been exposed to toxins or hazards while serving our country, at home or abroad, we want you to come to us for the health care you deserve,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement.

The agency said more than half a million veterans have enrolled in VA health care since the PACT Act became law. The new move means any veteran who participated in what the VA terms a toxic exposure risk activity, or TERA, is eligible for VA health care.

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.

“With this expansion, VA can care for all veterans who served in the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Global War on Terror, or any other combat zone after 9/11. We can also care for veterans who never deployed but were exposed to toxins or hazards while training or on active duty here at home — by working with chemicals, pesticides, lead, asbestos, certain paints, nuclear weapons, X-rays, and more,” VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Shereef Elnahal said in a statement.

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.

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