The PACT Act was supposed to make it easier than ever for former servicemen and women to receive treatment. Passed with bipartisan support in 2022, the PACT Act—officially termed the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022—expanded the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) list of service-connected conditions. It includes dozens of toxic exposure-related illnesses, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchitis, and several different types of cancer.
Obtaining PACT Act benefits after a denied VA disability claim is potentially life-changing news for veterans. You don’t have to accept excuses and never-ending delays as the price of seeking support. Sean Kendall, attorney at law, has spent years helping veterans assert their rights to care and compensation. Here’s what you should know.
The PACT Act
Since its enactment, hundreds of thousands of veterans have already received care and compensation for their injuries. However, some wounded warriors are fighting an uphill battle against the VA’s notoriously byzantine bureaucracy. In many cases, applicants have been forced to re-file and appeal adverse determinations for benefits that once required a verifiable service connection, but which have since been recategorized as presumptive.
You may be entitled to PACT Act compensation if you served in any of the following conflicts and theaters:
- The Vietnam War
- The Gulf War
- Post-9/11 conflicts
Although scientists have yet to determine exactly how exposure to burn pits and other chemical hazards affect the body, there’s sufficient evidence to suggest that even short-term exposure can have a lasting impact on human health and well-being.
New PACT Act Conditions
For most servicemen and women, filing a disability claim through the VA is an onerous undertaking. Under most circumstances, applicants must prove that their time in the armed forces caused their disability. This can be difficult, even with a medical diagnosis and other verifiable records.
However, the PACT Act provides a critical alternative for many veterans. In writing the PACT Act, legislators expanded the VA’s existing list of “presumptive conditions.” If and when a condition is categorized as presumptive, the VA automatically assumes—or presumes—that military service caused or exacerbated it.
The PACT Act’s revised list of presumptive conditions includes illnesses related to the following.
The Vietnam War
The PACT Act instructed the VA to add several Agent Orange-related illnesses to its list of presumptive conditions. These include high blood pressure and monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance, or MGUS.
The Gulf War and Post-9/11 Conflicts
Servicepeople in every branch were exposed to burn pits and other toxic emissions during the Gulf War, the War in Afghanistan, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. These emissions were potent and—in some cases—carcinogenic.
The PACT Act now considers the following types of cancer as presumptive:
- Brain and head cancer
- Gastrointestinal cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Neck cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Reproductive cancers
- Respiratory cancers
It also includes a wide range of other non-malignant illnesses, including chronic bronchitis, COPD, and pulmonary fibrosis.
Filing a PACT Act Claim with an Existing Denial
The VA recognizes that some servicepeople filed disability claims that were denied for insufficient evidence of a service connection—disability claims that are now considered presumptive under the PACT Act.
Although the agency has said that it will try to contact eligible veterans, you may have to file a supplemental claim to obtain benefits. Supplemental claims serve several different purposes, but they’re typically used to request a review of an issue previously decided by the VA. A supplemental claim can be used to introduce new evidence or to ask for a redetermination after a condition has been declared presumptive.
However, supplemental claims are subject to some restrictions. For instance, you must meet these requirements:
- The VA has adjudicated your claim in the past.
- Your claim is not in appeal or otherwise contested.
Fortunately, the VA permits claims filed based on a change in law, like the PACT Act. Claimants with presumptive conditions don’t need to meet the same burden of proof as others, but they must still submit or identify medical evidence indicative of a qualifying condition. This might seem simple, but establishing a diagnosis can be difficult, especially if your medical providers have yet to confirm your illness.