Veterans who plan to seek benefits under the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, or PACT Act, must do so by Wednesday, August 9, in order for any payout to be backdated a year.
Veterans can still apply under the act after August 9 but will get no backdated benefits.
Rep. Mark Takano, a California congressman who helped write the PACT Act in 2021, said veterans could lose substantial benefits if they miss the deadline.
“We’re talking real money,” Takano told Los Angeles news station Fox 11. “Folks that qualify for a service-connected disability because they were exposed to toxic substances could qualify for a pension. That could be thousands of dollars a month for the rest of their lives. That could mean something for a spouse. That could mean educational benefits for a son or daughter.”
Veterans can submit an application at the Veteran Administration’s website. Applicants can also submit an “Intent to file” — though that form must be mailed. Veterans can also call the VA at 800-827-1000.
The PACT Act
The PACT Act directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to change the way it handles claims for service-related toxic exposure. Veterans groups have long claimed that long-term health problems from toxic exposure were widespread for veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with Desert Storm in 1991, and even Vietnam.
But qualifying for benefits has always been a tricky process. From 2007 to 2020, the VA denied nearly 80% of claims for injuries around burn pits used in conflicts in the Middle East.
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Many other veterans groups, claiming illnesses from lung cancer to nerve disorders, have also said the VA has stonewalled claims.
With the PACT Act, the VA will expand the scope and number of maladies it will consider a “presumptive condition” for toxic exposure.
In other words, the VA has long forced vets to prove with medical exams, tests, and opinions that a later-in-life malady was due to a specific toxic exposure they suffered while deployed. Under the PACT Act, that presumption will shift, and the VA will now assume that a vet’s claim for benefits is valid if they were present in a war zone where toxic chemicals were likely present, such as most US bases during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
According to the VA website: “If you have a presumptive condition, you don’t need to prove that your service caused the condition. You only need to meet the service requirements for the presumption.”
According to the VA, under the new law, the PACT Act will:
- Expand and extend eligibility for VA health care for veterans with toxic exposures and veterans of the Vietnam, Gulf War, and post-9/11 eras.
- Add 20+ more presumptive conditions for burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic exposures.
- Add more presumptive-exposure locations for Agent Orange and radiation.
- Require the VA to provide a toxic exposure screening to every Veteran enrolled in VA health care.
According to the VA, these cancers are now presumptive:
- Brain cancer
- Gastrointestinal cancer of any type
- Head cancer of any type
- Kidney cancer
- Lymphoma of any type
- Neck cancer of any type
- Pancreatic cancer
- Reproductive cancer of any type
- Respiratory (breathing-related) cancer of any type
These illnesses are also now presumptive:
- Asthma that was diagnosed after service
- Chronic bronchitis
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Chronic rhinitis
- Chronic sinusitis
- Constrictive bronchiolitis or obliterative bronchiolitis
- Granulomatous disease
- Interstitial lung disease (ILD)
- Pulmonary fibrosis
For Vietnam vets, the VA will now consider as presumptive these symptoms of Agent Orange exposure:
- High blood pressure (also called hypertension)
- Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS)
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