Department of Veteran Affairs FlagPresident Biden recently signed an expansion of VA disability services for Veterans hurt by hazardous substances. The Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, commonly called the PACT Act, provides health care and easier access to benefits for Veterans and families affected by service-related toxic exposure.

What Is the PACT Act?

The PACT Act expands the list of presumptive health conditions caused by exposure to dangerous substances, reducing paperwork and wait times for Veterans who need monthly disability benefits. The benefits of the law could reach one in five Veterans nationwide living with diseases from burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxins.

The PACT Act helps Veterans by:

  • Removing the need for certain Veterans and their survivors to prove service connection. Veterans diagnosed with one of 23 conditions, including respiratory disorders and several forms of cancer, now have presumptive status. Survivors of Veterans who died due to one of these conditions are similarly eligible for benefits. The law also adds more presumptive-exposure locations for Agent Orange and radiation.
  • Expanding VA health care eligibility for post-9/11 Veterans. Post-9/11 combat Veterans now have 10 years after discharge to enroll in VA health care benefits (increased from five years) and a one-year open enrollment period without the need to prove a service-connected disability.
  • Implementing a new process for presumptive service connection determinations. The VA can now approve benefit applications based on evidence of military environmental exposure and its associated health risks rather than individual symptoms.
  • Requiring toxic exposure screening for all Veterans. The VA is now required to provide a poisonous exposure screening to every Veteran enrolled in VA health care, ensure that VA personnel have the appropriate education and training, and establish an outreach program to inform Veterans about toxic exposure-related support.
  • Adding staffing and resources to process claims more quickly. The PACT Act granted additional funds to the VA to address the backlog of disability claims and increase timely access to services and benefits for all eligible Veterans.
  • Conducting studies to understand the impact of toxic exposure better. The law requires VA to study Veterans who served in Southwest Asia during the Gulf War and post-9/11 Veterans’ to identify harmful health trends.

Which Veterans Are Affected by the PACT Act?

Gulf War Era and Post-9/11 Veterans

Veterans who served in the Gulf War on or after August 2, 1990, or after September 11, 2001, can now claim for various medical conditions associated with burn pits and other toxic exposures.

Presumptive conditions for these Veterans include:

  • Brain cancer (or head cancer of any type)
  • Gastrointestinal cancer of any type
  • Glioblastoma
  • Kidney cancer
  • Lymphoma or lymphatic cancer of any type
  • Melanoma
  • Neck cancer of any type
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Reproductive cancer of any type
  • Respiratory (breathing-related) cancer of any type
  • Asthma diagnosed after service
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Chronic rhinitis, sinusitis, or bronchitis
  • Constrictive bronchiolitis or obliterative bronchiolitis
  • Emphysema
  • Granulomatous disease
  • Interstitial lung disease (ILD)
  • Pleuritis
  • Pulmonary fibrosis
  • Sarcoidosis

Vietnam-Era Veterans

In addition to the existing presumptive conditions for Veterans exposed to Agent Orange, PACT Act has included monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) and hypertension for Vietnam-Era Veterans. The law also expands presumptive benefits for Agent Orange exposure after service in the following locations:

  • Any U.S. or Royal Thai military base in Thailand from January 9, 1962, through June 30, 1976 
  • Laos from December 1, 1965, through September 30, 1969
  • Cambodia at Mimot or Krek, Kampong Cham Province from April 16, 1969, through April 30, 1969
  • Guam or American Samoa or in the territorial waters off of Guam or American Samoa from January 9, 1962, through July 31, 1980
  • Johnston Atoll (or on a ship called at Johnston Atoll) from January 1, 1972, through September 30, 1977

The law also expands presumptive benefits for radiation exposure after service in the following locations:

  • Enewetak Atoll cleanup from January 1, 1977, through December 31, 1980
  • Cleanup of the Air Force B-52 bomber carrying nuclear weapons off the coast of Palomares, Spain, from January 17, 1966, through March 31, 1967
  • Fire response onboard an Air Force B-52 bomber carrying nuclear weapons near Thule Air Force Base in Greenland from January 21, 1968, to September 25, 1968

Survivor Benefits

If you’re a surviving family member of a Veteran, you may be owed the following:

  • DIC payments. Surviving spouses, dependent children, or parents of a Veteran who died from a service-connected disability may collect a monthly VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC).
  • A one-time unpaid benefits settlement. A surviving spouse, dependent child, or dependent parent of a Veteran who never collected benefits at the time of a service member’s death can collect a one-time payment of accrued benefits.
  • Pensions. Surviving spouses and children of a Veteran with wartime service in these areas are eligible for a Survivors Pension.

Could I Get VA Disability Benefits Faster Under the PACT Act?

The VA is set to begin processing all new claims on January 1, 2023. While the resources allocated to the VA should speed processing times, tens of thousands of new claims could be filed—and there is still an existing backlog of over 100,000 claims in the system.

The PACT Act goes a long way toward addressing the medical and emotional needs of service members and their families, but the sheer number of claims pending and arriving at the VA could still result in delays. The best way to improve your chances of first-time benefit approval is to get the help of an experienced VA Disability attorney.

The office of Sean Kendall, Attorney-at-Law, helps Veterans nationwide get the compensation they deserve for service-connected disabilities. If you are a Veteran who suffered cancer or other diseases due to toxic chemicals during military service, call 303-449-4773 or use our online contact form to set up a free, no-obligation consultation on Agent Orange-related conditions. You can also learn more about your claim in our free guide, VA Benefits Handbook.