Recently, significant strides have been made toward rectifying the injustices caused by Agent Orange and other herbicides used during the Vietnam War. Many Vietnam-era veterans have been subjected to the harmful effects of herbicide use. As a result, many veterans have faced numerous health issues, leaving them struggling for proper medical care and support. Finally, hope emerged in the form of the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act. This landmark legislation will significantly impact the lives of service members by addressing the consequences of their exposure to toxic chemicals and airborne hazards.
Understanding the PACT Act
Signed in 2022 by President Biden, the PACT Act is a new law created to expand and extend VA healthcare benefits and disability compensation for veterans from the Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War, post-9/11 conflicts, and Camp Lejeune. It incorporates vital provisions prioritizing veterans exposed to toxic substances that caused service-connected disabilities. These provisions encompass:
- Presumptive Conditions Lists: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has expanded its list of presumptive conditions by incorporating additions, including over 20 burn pit and other exposure-related conditions. These conditions are presumed to have been caused by military service and do not necessitate individual proof of service connection as long as the service requirements are fulfilled.
- Healthcare Eligibility: The eligibility for VA healthcare has been broadened to encompass many veterans who served in post-9/11 conflicts, the Gulf War, Vietnam, Camp Lejeune, and other veterans exposed to toxic substances. Furthermore, to improve healthcare accessibility, the VA will establish 31 additional healthcare facilities across the United States.
- Research and Coordination: The Act emphasizes the significance of conducting a thorough and comprehensive analysis of toxic exposure and its implications for veterans. These research studies will delve into various aspects, such as assessing the mortality rates of Gulf War veterans deployed in Southwest Asia, analyzing the health patterns among post-9/11 veterans, and evaluating cancer rates on a broader scale.
Our blog, “The PACT Act of 2022 Provides a Ray of Hope for Vets,” contains more detailed information on the PACT Act.
Impact of the PACT Act on Vietnam Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange
Connecting a disability to military service can be daunting, especially when it comes to injuries and illnesses resulting from exposure to toxic substances, which may take years to manifest. The PACT Act addresses the bureaucratic hurdles veterans often face when filing claims related to toxic exposures by broadening the scope of presumptive conditions and service locations. By including additional presumptive conditions and service locations to simplify the claims process, the Act offers veterans a more streamlined route to receive the medical support and disability compensation they deserve.
To obtain a VA disability rating, veterans must typically establish a direct connection between their disability and military service. However, certain conditions related to the Vietnam War and Agent Orange exposure are categorized as presumptive. The Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledges that these specific conditions or illnesses are assumed to be caused by the Vietnam War and Agent Orange. As a result, individuals who meet the service requirements are not obligated to prove a direct link between their presumptive condition and their military service to receive disability benefits.
Additional Agent Orange Presumptive Conditions
Agent Orange contained a toxic chemical called dioxin. This chemical has been linked to various health problems, including cancers, congenital disabilities, and other severe medical conditions. Therefore, the VA considers several conditions caused by Agent Orange on its presumptive conditions list. These conditions include:
- AL amyloidosis
- Diabetes mellitus type 2
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Hypothyroidism (added in 2021)
- Ischemic heart disease
- Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS)
- Parkinsonism (added in 2021)
- Parkinson’s disease
- Bladder cancer
- Chronic B-cell leukemia
- Hodgkin’s disease
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Prostate cancer
- Respiratory cancers (including lung cancer)
- Some soft tissue sarcomas (not including osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma)
Three additional conditions must meet a disability rating of 10% within one year of exposure to Agent Orange to be considered presumptive.
- Chloracne (or other types of acneiform disease like it)
- Peripheral neuropathy, early onset
- Porphyria cutanea tarda
The PACT Act expanded the Agent Orange presumptive conditions list to include monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) and high blood pressure (hypertension).
To be eligible for disability compensation for Agent Orange exposure, veterans must also meet specific service conditions. Before the PACT Act, these service locations included:
- In the Republic of Vietnam (boots on the ground)
- Aboard a U.S. military vessel that operated in the inland waterways of Vietnam (Brown Water Navy)
- On a vessel operating not more than 12 nautical miles seaward from the demarcation line of the waters of Vietnam and Cambodia (Blue Water Navy)
Service dates for these locations must be between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975. There is no specific duration of service time associated with these locations.
The PACT Act added additional locations to the Agent Orange service requirements. Although no specific service time duration is associated with these locations, particular dates are associated with each location.
- Any U.S. or Royal Thai military base in Thailand - January 9, 1962, through June 30, 1976
- Laos - December 1, 1965, through September 30, 1969
- Cambodia at Mimot or Krek, Kampong Cham Province - April 16, 1969, through April 30, 1969
- Guam, American Samoa, or in the territorial waters off Guam or American Samoa - January 9, 1962, through July 31, 1980
- Johnston Atoll or on a ship that called at Johnston Atoll - January 1, 1972, through September 30, 1977
Expanding the Agent Orange presumptive conditions list and service location requirements, the PACT Act enables more Vietnam-era veterans to obtain the disability rating and disability compensation they deserve. By reducing the burden of proof required to establish a link between their illnesses and this airborne hazard exposure, veterans can avoid unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles, allowing them to focus on their health and well-being.
If you meet the presumptive condition and service location requirements for Agent Orange and your VA disability claim has been denied, contact us at Veterans Advocacy Law Group. Our VA benefit specialists will assist you with appealing your claim. If your previous Agent Orange toxic-exposure claim was denied, we urge you to file a supplemental claim. If your request to reopen is denied, we may be able to assist you with your appeal. The VA will reassess your supplemental claim under the new law.