What is the PACT Act?
Over the years, veterans have been exposed to a wide range of hazardous substances during their military service, including chemical agents such as Agent Orange, burn pits, depleted uranium, and other toxic substances. Unfortunately, the consequences of such exposures have often been overlooked or underestimated, leading to severe health issues among veterans. The conditions linked to toxic exposure include respiratory problems, neurological disorders, cancers, and more.
President Biden signed the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act into law in 2022, aiming to address the pressing issue of toxic exposures and their impact on the health and well-being of veterans. This groundbreaking new law expands VA healthcare by providing additional benefits and services for toxic-exposed veterans.
Provisions of the PACT Act
Expanding Healthcare Access
Recognizing the urgency of providing adequate healthcare to affected veterans, the PACT Act ensures expanded access to healthcare services for exposed veterans. With expanded access to specialized healthcare services, veterans affected by toxic exposures can expect a better diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing care for their conditions. The services ensure they receive specialized attention from healthcare providers with expertise in toxic exposure-related illnesses. This includes adding 31 new VA facilities across the U.S.
Extending Healthcare Eligibility
The PACT Act also extends VA healthcare eligibility for veterans of the Persian Gulf War, post-9/11 conflicts, the Vietnam War, and veterans with toxic exposures. For example, post-9/11 combat veterans have ten years post-discharge to enroll in VA healthcare instead of five. If they are outside of the ten years, the Act enables a one-year open enrollment period. Now more veterans can enroll in VA healthcare without proving their service-connected disability.
Toxic Exposure Screenings
Additionally, per the PACT Act, the VA must provide every veteran enrolled in VA healthcare a toxic exposure screening and follow-up at least once every five years. During these screenings, a provider will ask veterans about their exposure to Agent Orange, contaminated water exposure at Camp Lejeune, Gulf War-related exposures, open burn pits and other airborne hazards, radiation, and other exposures. Veterans who are not currently enrolled in VA healthcare but are eligible to enroll will be screened after enrollment.
Streamlining Claims Process
The PACT Act addresses the bureaucratic hurdles veterans often face when filing claims related to toxic exposures. Claims processors and VA healthcare staff will receive the necessary training and education on toxic exposure, building a more robust network of professionals to address disability claims. Additionally, a new process for assessing and establishing the assumption of toxic exposure and service connection enables the VA to make faster decisions on exposure issues, reducing processing times.
Some injuries and illnesses caused by exposure to toxic materials take years to manifest, making it difficult to establish a direct connection between a disability and military service. By simplifying the burden of proof through presumptive conditions and expediting the claims process, the Act aims to ensure that veterans receive the support they deserve without unnecessary delays or bureaucratic obstacles.
Presumptive Conditions are conditions the VA concedes were caused by service. Veterans need to meet the service requirements but do not need to prove that their service caused their condition. The VA also expanded the presumptive condition list by adding more than 20 burn pit and other toxic exposure presumptive conditions. In addition, high blood pressure (hypertension) and monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance are now included on the Agent Orange presumptive conditions list. Twelve additional conditions, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and cancers were added to the Persian Gulf War list. Many other health conditions are now presumed to be caused by exposure to toxic materials. In addition, the PACT Act added more presumptive-exposure locations for Agent Orange and radiation, including Thailand, Laos, Guam, American Samoa, and the Johnston Atoll.
Enhanced Research and Coordination
Finally, the PACT Act establishes a framework for comprehensive research on toxic exposures and their impact on veterans. It calls for improved coordination between various government agencies, including the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to gather and analyze data, identify patterns, and understand the long-term consequences of toxic exposures. This includes research studies on the mortality of Gulf War veterans who served in Southwest Asia, health trends of post-9/11 veterans, and overall cancer rates.
The PACT Act brings hope to veterans who have long been struggling with the physical, mental, and emotional toll of toxic exposures. By prioritizing research and healthcare access, the Act acknowledges veterans' unique challenges and promises to improve their quality of life. The enactment of the PACT Act represents a significant milestone in recognizing and validating veterans’ concerns regarding toxic exposures and acknowledges the severity of their health issues.
If you have been denied VA benefits or believe you have an illness or disability related to toxic exposure in the military and the VA is denying your claim, contact us at Veterans Advocacy Law Group. Our VA disability benefits team can help you receive the disability compensation you deserve.