Understanding the PACT Act
The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act — better known as the PACT Act — is a historic new law that will help the VA deliver for millions of Veterans — and their survivors — by empowering the VA to presumptively provide care and benefits to Vets suffering from more than 20 toxic exposure-related conditions.
The PACT Act will bring these changes:
Expands and extends eligibility for VA health care for Veterans with toxic exposures and Veterans of the Vietnam, Gulf War, and post-9/11 eras
Adds more than 20 new presumptive conditions for burn pits and other toxic exposures
Adds more presumptive-exposure locations for Agent Orange and radiation
Requires VA to provide a toxic exposure screening to every Veteran enrolled in VA health care
In a White House ceremony, Biden called the legislation one of the most important changes to veteran support policies in decades and said it will provide needed relief to individuals who are still suffering the wounds of war years after leaving the battlefield.
The PACT Act will be phased in over the next few years and provide new support for veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the first Gulf War, the Vietnam War and a host of smaller deployments across the globe in between those campaigns.
“The PACT Act is the least we can do for the countless men and women … who suffer toxic exposure while serving their country,” Biden said.
Portions of the PACT Act that have garnered the most attention concern illnesses that stem from burn pits that were used in Iraq and Afghanistan to dispose of waste, including office equipment, vehicle parts, medical trash and other potentially toxic items.
For years, veterans’ advocates have chronicled cases of respiratory illnesses and rare cancers among troops returning from those war zones, but have been unable to directly link such ailments to toxic smoke from fires because of a lack of air quality monitoring.
As a result, many have been refused disability benefits from the VA for those sicknesses, claims which, in the past, have required strict scientific evidence to support.
Under this new bill, however, that process will be amended. Any veterans who served in those areas will be granted presumptive status for 23 respiratory illnesses and cancers, speeding up the process to receive benefits — which can total several thousand dollars a month.
The new bill also gives veterans who served in recent wars five more years of medical care coverage under the VA — they currently get five years — regardless of health status. Lawmakers said the extended time should help identify lingering health issues among veterans, which will ideally lead to faster and more reliable care.
Veterans of pre-Global War on Terror conflicts will also see new support under the measure.
The bill removes time restrictions placed on veterans from the first Gulf War while applying for similar toxic exposure benefits, adds hypertension and other conditions to the list of presumptive illnesses caused by Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War, and eases filing requirements for veterans exposed to radiation during various deployments around the globe.
The measure would also codify recent changes in how the VA handles future toxic exposure claims, mandating a less rigid approach to the issue. Between 2007 and 2020, over 70 percent of disability claims related to burn pits were reportedly denied by the VA. Advocates claim that fair and fast responses to future war zone dangers could prevent a similar health care and disability fight.
The Department of Defense estimates nearly 3.5 million troops who served in recent wars may have endured enough smoke exposure to cause health problems. That figure, combined with help for other generations of veterans included in the PACT Act, means that as many as one in five veterans living in America today could see some benefit from the legislation in coming years.
While advocates say there is much more to be done, the president considered the bill’s signing a major step in the right direction.
If you think you might be eligible for PACT Act benefits, here’s what you need to know:
You can apply for PACT Act-related benefits now by filing a claim at VA.
All 23 presumptive conditions in the PACT Act were eligible for benefits effective August 10.