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As a result of the passage of the Sergeant First Class (SFC) Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act on August 10, 2022, US veterans’ health care and benefits will be expanded in the most significant way in thirty years. The cumbersome name stems from the story of SFC Heath Robinson, who died from a rare form of lung cancer due to toxic exposures after serving as a combat medic. This bill honors his name and the memory of all those lost to toxic exposure during service. The law comprehensively addresses the risk of toxins impacting the health of veterans, their families, and their caregivers.
Often, it can take years for these illnesses to manifest due to the increased health risks military servicemembers assume in locations all over the world. This time lag between exposure and disease can make it difficult to establish a direct connection between a veteran’s service and resulting illnesses and disabilities from multiple military environments. The PACT Act charter will bring about the following changes:
- Expand and extend veteran eligibility for VA health care due to toxic exposure during the Vietnam, Gulf War, and other post-9/11 eras
- The addition of more than twenty new “presumptive conditions” as they relate to military burn pits and other toxic exposures
- The addition of more presumptive-exposure locations for radiation and Agent Orange
- Requirements for the VA to provide toxic exposure screenings to every veteran receiving care in the VA healthcare system
- Increase funding for and improve research efforts, staff education, and treatment as it relates to toxic exposures
What exactly is a “presumptive condition” due to toxic exposure? A VA disability rating typically connects your military service with proof that your service is directly responsible for your condition to qualify for benefits. However, in some situations, there is now an automatic presumption that your service is responsible for your condition. Laws or regulations determine whether a condition is considered presumptive. Under these circumstances, there is no need to prove your service is responsible. You only need to meet the service requirements for the presumption.
The eras and wars in which a veteran served and their associated benefits eligibility are detailed on this US Department of Veterans Affairs PACT Act resource link. The website also outlines claim filing processes to receive these benefits. If the VA previously denied your claim but now considers your condition falls into the presumptive category, you can submit a supplemental claim for VA review under the PACT Act.
Extended Healthcare Enrollment Periods
In particular, for post-9/11 combat veterans, the PACT Act extends the time period to enroll in VA health care from five to ten years post-honorable discharge. Additionally, there is a one-year open enrollment period for those combat veterans who do not fall within this window of time. These enrollment changes increase the number of veterans able to participate in VA PACT Act benefits without demonstrating a direct service-connected disability. By establishing presumptive conditions and expanding the list of other illnesses, the VA greatly reduces the paperwork and need for medical exams to qualify for and grant access to health care and disability compensation. These changes streamline the process of receiving earned benefits when the timing of this help is everything due to a debilitating illness(es).
VA Secretary Denis McDonough encourages those veterans who think they may be eligible for these benefits to learn more about the PACT Act by visiting this VA resource link or phoning 1-800-MY-VA-411. Benefits associated with the PACT Act became effective on August 10, 2022, when the bill was signed into law.
Claiming Your VA Benefits
Like many VA benefits claims, the process can be daunting even though this law seeks to simplify its approach while increasing the pool of eligible veterans. Correctly filing out and filing forms is crucial to initial application success. Retaining the services of an attorney specializing in veterans’ benefits can help ensure you submit your claim accurately, streamlining the receipt of your benefits. This law will deliver much-needed benefits to millions of veterans and their survivors. Upon reviewing the information in the VA links provided, if you are a veteran that falls within these timeframes of war and other post-9/11 combat services, talk to a veteran’s attorney today.