The PACT Act and Your VA Benefits
The PACT Act, also known as The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, is one of the largest VA healthcare expansions and reforms in the history of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
There are sweeping changes for those who have served since 9/11 but there are also provisions for those who have served in the Gulf War or Vietnam. What do you need to know about the PACT Act changes and who is affected? We’ll examine the basics below.
How PACT Changes VA Benefits
Veterans of the Vietnam conflict, both Gulf Wars, and those who have served since 9/11 now have expanded and extended eligibility for VA healthcare coverage and compensation for exposure to burn pits and other toxic events, conditions, etc.
The Department of Veterans Affairs official site reminds applicants that PACT Act expansions allow veterans to get free VA healthcare for any condition related to military service for 10 years from their last date of separation. The VA official site states, “We encourage you to apply, no matter your separation date.”
New Presumptive Conditions And Locations
There are more than 20 new “presumptive conditions” for burn pits and “other toxic exposures” according to the VA. There are updated and expanded guidelines for Agent Orange and radiation; there are new presumptive exposure locations for these contaminants.
The PACT Act requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide a toxic exposure screening to every veteran enrolled in the VA healthcare system. It also enhances research, education, and treatment possibilities for toxic exposure.
The VA official site advises that all veterans and survivors may file claims with the VA now to apply for PACT Act benefits.
What Is A Presumptive Condition?
VA disability ratings are based on whether the medical condition being rated is service-connected. In some cases, the veteran must prove a service connection with medical records, statements from care providers, buddy letters from friends and family, etc.
But in other cases, a presumption of service-connected medical issues is made; the VA assumes that if you served in a specific area and circumstances meet certain VA conditions that certain medical issues are definitely service-connected.
A good example of a presumptive condition; those suffering from exposure to Agent Orange due to service during the Vietnam War. If you have the symptoms typically associated with the exposure and the duty location qualifies, the VA assumes your medical issues are duty-related. Further evidence is not required from the veteran.
VA Rules For Presumptive Conditions Related To Burn Pit Exposure
The Department of Veterans Affairs assumes you have toxic exposure if you served on or after August 2, 1990, in any of the following areas:
- Saudi Arabia
- The United Arab Emirates (UAE)
This includes military duty requiring you to travel in the “airspace above” any of the locations above. You are also presumed to have toxic burn pit exposure if you served on or after September 11, 2001, in any of these areas:
You may also have a presumptive condition if your duty required travel in the “airspace above any of these locations” according to the VA.
What New Presumptive Conditions Apply?
The Department of Veterans Affairs has a list of new presumptive conditions that may apply to those who served in the eras and locations mentioned above. They include but may not be limited to the following cancers:
- Brain cancer
- Gastrointestinal cancer of any type
- Head cancer of any type
- Kidney cancer
- Lymphatic cancer of any type
- Lymphoma of any type
- Neck cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Reproductive cancer of any type
- Respiratory (breathing-related) cancer of any type
Cancer is not the only condition that qualifies. These illnesses are now also presumptive for those who meet the criteria listed above.
- Asthma that was diagnosed after service
- Chronic bronchitis
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Chronic rhinitis
- Chronic sinusitis
- Constrictive bronchiolitis or obliterative bronchiolitis
- Granulomatous disease
- Interstitial lung disease (ILD)
- Pulmonary fibrosis
Qualifying for PACT Act Benefits
You may qualify for PACT Act benefits if you meet VA criteria including the following–at least one of these must apply:
- You served in a theater of combat operations after the Persian Gulf War, or
- You served in combat against a hostile force during a period of hostilities after November 11, 1998
You qualify if you meet one of the above AND you were discharged or released on or after October 1, 2013.
Those who were released before that date may still have options. You may still receive care and enroll “during a special enrollment period between October 1, 2022, and October 1, 2023” according to VA.gov.
One of the following must apply–you served in a theater of combat operations after the Persian Gulf War OR served in combat after November 11, 1998. Your discharge must have been between September 11, 2001, and October 1, 2013, and you have never enrolled in VA healthcare before.
PACT Act Benefits for Vietnam Veterans
PACT Act expansion for Vietnam veterans includes two new Agent Orange presumptive conditions:
- High blood pressure/hypertension
- Monoclonal gammopathy “of undetermined significance” (MGUS)
There are also five new presumptive locations for Vietnam-era toxic exposure:
- 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 by Guam or American Samoa from January 9, 1962, through July 30, 1980
- Johnston Atoll or on a ship that visited Johnston Atoll from January 1, 1972, through September 30, 1977
If you served on active duty in any of these locations, the VA official site says they will “automatically assume” you had exposure to Agent Orange.
Claiming VA Benefits
If you have never applied for VA disability benefits before, you will apply the way most others do–you will need to complete VA Form 21-526EZ and submit it according to the instructions on the form. Be as complete as you can and be prepared to submit supporting documentation in the form of any medical records, care provider notes, or other information that can support your claim.
Read More: What VA Forms Do I Need To Claim Disability?
If you have already applied for VA disability benefits but your claim was denied and the conditions you applied for are now presumptive, make a new claim with the Department Of Veterans Affairs using a VA Claim Decision Review Request: Supplemental Claim, VA Form 20-0995.
About the author
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.