For years, the United States government and the Department of Veterans Affairs failed to acknowledge that exposure to burn pits could have life-altering consequences. Even after researchers established that burn pit smoke could cause extreme respiratory distress, many wounded warriors were forced to wade through masses of red tape to receive even minimal relief.
The recent passage of the PACT Act attempts to make it easier for Veterans to obtain the treatment they need and the justice they deserve. Aside from revising the Department of Veterans Affairs’ list of presumptive service-connected conditions, the PACT Act also established an Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, which combines health questionnaires with practical assessments.
Sean Kendall, Attorney at Law, has spent decades helping American heroes face off against uncertainty, guiding them through the VA’s frustrating and often opaque claims process. If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with a burn pit-related condition, our experienced team of attorneys and accredited claims agents could help you begin exploring your options for a fair recovery.
About the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry
The Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry helps servicepeople and Veterans document possible exposures to toxic airborne chemicals. It serves two critical purposes.
- It helps registrants assess their individual risk and locate appropriate care.
- It establishes a secure database of health information, which the Department of Veterans Affairs and federal researchers can use to analyze and publish data about the potential long-term health effects of aerosolized toxins.
Participation in the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry is voluntary and open only to eligible servicepeople. The Department of Veterans Affairs determines eligibility based on deployment information provided by the federal Department of Defense.
Former servicepeople are typically eligible for the registry if they deployed to either of the following locations on or after August 2, 1990:
- Southwest Asia
Veterans of post-9/11 conflicts are also eligible if they served in any of the following locations on or after September 11, 2001:
Signing Up for the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry
If you believe you are eligible for the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, you can participate by taking these steps:
- Obtain or upgrade your DS Logon account.
- Visit the registry website.
- Complete the online questionnaire.
- Schedule an optional health evaluation.
1. Obtain or Upgrade Your DS Logon Account
Veterans can only register for the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry online if they have a Premium DS Logon Level 2 account. If you do not have a Premium DS Logon Level 2 account or need to upgrade an existing account, you can do so through the Department of Defense’s DMDC Identity Management website.
You can also access the registry through:
- A Department of Defense CAC card
- A VA PIV card
- An ID.me account
The Department of Veterans Affairs provides technical assistance to Veterans who experience difficulties in creating an account or accessing registry information.
2. Visit the Registry Website
After you have upgraded your DS Logon account, visit the Department of Veterans Affairs’ registry website. Log in and verify your deployment information.
3. Complete the Online Questionnaire
If you are eligible for participation in the registry, you will be redirected to an online questionnaire. This questionnaire asks a variety of questions, including questions about:
- Where and when you were deployed
- Any conditions or health issues that impair your daily activities
- Your current and past health symptoms
The registry questionnaire also asks several questions that may seem irrelevant. For example, respondents are typically asked about their current job and hobbies. This helps medical providers better understand how a Veteran’s lifestyle and habits influence their overall well-being.
The VA suggests that you allow up to one hour to complete the questionnaire. You can save your progress and come back later, if necessary.
When you are finished, it is recommended that you print or save a copy of the questionnaire for your own records.
4. Schedule an Optional Health Evaluation
You do not have to schedule an appointment with the Department of Veterans Affairs or a private physician to participate in the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry. However, if you have questions or concerns about how past toxic exposures could have impacted your health, a consultation could help you obtain a diagnosis or receive more information about care and treatment options.
Every Veteran who is currently receiving care through the VA will receive an initial screening, as well as follow-up screenings every five years. During the screening, you will be asked about your potential exposure to any hazards, including:
- Open burn pits
- Agent Orange
- Camp Lejeune contaminated water
- Other possible exposures
If your provider believes you could be at risk for exposure-related illnesses, you may be given treatment information or referred for further care.
Please note that the evaluations that are conducted through the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry are not related to the exams that are necessary to receive VA disability benefits.
Other Key Points to Consider About the PACT Act
The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, or PACT Act, was signed into law by President Joe Biden in August 2022. As its name suggests, the PACT Act was designed to relieve longstanding concerns about how chemical exposures may have impacted American servicemen and women. It expanded benefit eligibility and added several presumptive conditions to the VA disability benefits claim process.
Expanded Benefits Eligibility
The PACT Act expands toxic exposure benefits to Veterans who may have been exposed to chemical hazards in the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and many post-9/11 conflicts.
You could be entitled to benefits if you served in the Gulf War, or a post-9/11 conflict, if you meet either of the following criteria:
- You served in a theater of combat operations during a period of war after the Persian Gulf War.
- You served in combat against a hostile force or during a period of hostility on or after November 11, 1998.
New Presumptive Service-Connected Conditions
Under the PACT Act, the Department of Veterans Affairs will recognize more than 20 new presumptive conditions for burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic exposure. These conditions include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Asthma diagnosed after service
- Brain cancer
- Chronic bronchitis
- Chronic rhinitis
- Chronic sinusitis
- Gastrointestinal cancer of any type
- Head cancer
- Hypertensive vascular disease
- Kidney cancer
In the past, servicepeople with these conditions had to demonstrate that their diagnosis was more likely than not caused by military service. This requirement is sometimes termed a “service connection.”
However, the passage of the PACT Act has recategorized some of these conditions as “presumptive.” In other words, the Department of Veterans Affairs will presume that the diagnosis of certain conditions was caused by military service, thereby releasing former servicepeople from any obligation to prove that a diagnosis—of cancer, bronchitis, or any other listed condition—was actually caused by service.
Let Us Help You Obtain Benefits for a Toxin-Related Illness
The Department of Veterans Affairs provides a wide range of benefits for many toxin-related diseases and disabilities. Benefits include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Partial and total disability compensation, including total disability individual unemployability benefits (TDIU)
- Health care
- Pensions and survivor benefits
While the passage of the PACT Act makes it substantially easier for Veterans to file claims for new presumptive service-connected conditions, filing a claim is still an onerous and exhausting process. Any mistake, oversight, or omission—no matter how minor—could delay applications and, in some cases, force you into an appeal.
Sean Kendall, Attorney at Law, has spent decades helping wounded warriors navigate the VA’s labyrinthine bureaucracy. If you, or a loved one, need assistance exploring eligibility for PACT Act benefits, our experienced team of attorneys could help you assess your options, file a claim, or even fight a difficult appeal.