Veteran With a Respiratory IllnessCongress recently passed the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, landmark legislation that protects the rights of Veterans who sustained service-related injuries. Under the PACT Act’s provisions, millions of service people could receive benefits for critical respiratory conditions.

Congress and the PACT Act

The PACT Act, passed in 2022, has been characterized as “the most significant expansion of benefits and services for toxic-exposed Veterans” in nearly 30 years. This legislation broadly:

  • Creates a framework for Veterans to receive high-quality medical screenings for potential toxic exposures.
  • Expands benefits eligibility and access to Veterans who may have been exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic substances.
  • Enlarges the list of presumptive service-related conditions to include several new respiratory diseases and disorders.

While the PACT Act codifies the Department of Veterans Affairs’ new processes to assess benefits eligibility, this legislation has significant limitations and only covers a pre-defined set of medical conditions.

Military Veterans and Toxic Chemical Exposure

The PACT Act provides benefits to Veterans who served in the United States military during, on, or after:

The Vietnam War

The PACT Act provides Agent Orange-related benefits to Veterans who served in any of the following locations:

  • The Republic of Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975.
  • U.S. and Royal Thai bases in Thailand between January 9, 1962, and June 30, 1976.
  • Laos between December 1, 1965, and September 30, 1969.
  • Certain Cambodian provinces between April 16, 1969, and April 30, 1969.
  • Guam or American Samoa between January 9, 1962, and July 31, 1980.
  • Johnston Atoll or any shipped that called at Johnston Atoll between January 1, 1972, and September 30, 1977.

September 11, 2001

The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act could cover servicepeople who served in any of the following locations on or after September 11, 2001:

  • Afghanistan
  • Djibouti
  • Egypt
  • Jordan
  • Lebanon
  • Syria
  • Uzbekistan
  • Yemen

The PACT Act also provides benefits to Veterans who served in, or traversed, the airspace above any of these locations.

August 2, 1990

The PACT Act expands toxics-related benefits eligibility to Veterans who served in Operation Desert Storm and the First Gulf War.

You could be entitled to benefits if you served in any of the following locations on or after August 2, 1990:

  • Bahrain
  • Qatar
  • Kuwait
  • Oman
  • Iraq
  • Saudi Arabia
  • The United Arab Emirates

The PACT Act also provides benefits to Veterans who served in, or traversed, the airspace above any of these locations.

The Hazards of U.S. Military Burn Pits

The PACT Act is intended, in part, to address burn pit-related injuries and ailments. Burn pits were used to dispose of military-grade waste, including:

  • Industrial plastics
  • Rubber
  • Chemical compounds
  • Medical supplies
  • Irreparable machinery and equipment

Burn pits allowed the military to dispose of hazardous waste at a low cost.

However, many Veterans began experiencing unusual respiratory symptoms after returning home. While the armed forces long denied the dangers of burn pits, an increasing body of evidence suggests that burn pits produce toxic fumes that can inflict significant injuries after even brief exposures.

Burn Pits, the PACT Act, and Presumptive Conditions

The Department of Veterans Affairs provides subsidized medical benefits to former members of the United States armed forces who sustained service-related injuries. Under most circumstances, the V.A. asks Veterans to provide evidence that their condition was caused or exacerbated by military service.

However, the V.A. presumes that some medical conditions are related to serving. These conditions are considered presumptive conditions.

When Veterans are diagnosed with a presumptive condition, Veterans Affairs might ask them to prove that they served in an eligible campaign or theater, but they will not demand evidence that an illness was caused by service.

The PACT Act’s Revised List of Presumptive Respiratory Conditions

The PACT Act has expanded the list of presumptive service-related respiratory conditions to include:

  • Asthma that was diagnosed after service
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD
  • Chronic rhinitis
  • Chronic sinusitis
  • Constrictive bronchiolitis or obliterative bronchiolitis
  • Emphysema
  • Interstitial lung disease, or ILD
  • Pleuritis
  • Pulmonary fibrosis
  • Sarcoidosis

Filing a Claim for a Recently Listed Presumptive Respiratory Illness

Veterans who believe they qualify for expanded PACT Act benefits must still apply to receive compensation. You must:

  1. Prepare an application. The Department of Veterans Affairs requires that anyone submitting a claim for a presumptive condition still prepare an application for benefits. While you might not need to collect evidence showing that your listed respiratory disease was caused by your military service, you may need to requisition records showing that you served in eligible locations.
  2. Apply for benefits. Benefits applications are usually straightforward. However, even minor mistakes can result in significant processing delays. Before applying for benefits, consider contacting an attorney to assist with the review.
  3. Await review. The V.A. processes applications on a first-come, first-serve basis. While the department recently added staff and has promised a reduction in wait times, many Veterans do not receive decisions for months.

Some Veterans with presumptive illnesses may have to re-submit their applications or draft supplemental claims if they were previously denied treatment for a presumptive PACT Act condition.

The PACT Act and Respiratory Illness Compensation

The PACT Act can provide Veterans with benefits including, but not limited to:

  • Subsidized, no-cost medical treatment
  • Disability benefits

Veterans’ family members could also be entitled to compensation. Survivors’ compensation could include:

Contact a Veterans Affairs Attorney Today

Congress passed the PACT Act to expand benefits eligibility to Veterans who may have developed respiratory illnesses after being exposed to burn pits and other toxic exposures. However, while many conditions have been recategorized as presumptive, obtaining compensation can still be a time-consuming and highly exhausting affair. Some Veterans may be forced to re-file existing claims or provide extensive documentation showing their deployment dates and locations.

Sean Kendall, Attorney at Law, is committed to helping patriots overcome bureaucratic obstacles to relief. If you, or a loved one, have been diagnosed with a respiratory condition after serving in the United States armed forces, send our firm a message online or call us at 303-449-4773 or toll-free at 877-629-1712 to speak to an attorney and schedule your initial consultation.