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VA Weighs Accelerated PACT Act Benefits

The PACT Act, also known as the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, has helped over 100 thousand veterans who signed up for PACT Act benefits since 2022. Some benefits promised under the Act aren’t active at press time, though some seek to change that.

The Department of Veterans Affairs describes the act as a federal law “that expands VA health care and benefits for Veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic substances.”

The Act adds a variety of medical issues to a list of conditions assumed to be service-connected, eliminating the burden of proof for those issues being placed on the veteran and expanding VA compensation and care options for those who qualify.

Some provisions took immediate effect when the Act became law, while others were scheduled to be “phased in” over time. But since the law passed, there’s been an effort to accelerate some phased-in changes.

What the PACT Act Does

According to VA.gov, the Act is responsible for several modifications to VA policy, including:

  • Expanded eligibility for VA health care for toxic exposures, including provisions for veterans of the Vietnam, Gulf War, and Post-9/11.
  • More presumptive conditions for burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic exposures
  • Expanded list of locations for Agent Orange and radiation
  • VA must provide a “toxic exposure screening” for all VA applicants.

The expansion of healthcare options for affected veterans also includes added consideration for Post-9/11 combat veterans who now have 10 years from their date of discharge to enroll at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to get VA care.

That has been extended from five years.

Related: VA Home Loan Benefit Guide

Expanded Deadlines To Apply For VA Care After Discharge

Those Post-9/11 veterans discharged over 10 years ago and who did not enroll in VHA had one year to enroll starting on 1 October 2022. Those who were eligible but did not enroll in this time frame (which ended in 2023) are subject to phased-in enrollment periods.

They are the same phased-in eligibility periods as for veterans who served in what the VA calls “Other Areas Of Known Exposure,” and your eligibility for PACT Act benefits depends on your discharge date.

  • Dates of discharge between August 2, 1990 – September 11, 2001, are eligible on October 1, 2024
  • Dates of discharge September 12, 2001 – December 31, 2006, are eligible on October 1, 2026
  • Dates of discharge January 1, 2007 – December 31, 2012, are eligible on October 1, 2028
  • Dates of discharge January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2018, are eligible on October 1, 2030

Phased-In PACT Act Benefits

Some federal officials feel the phased approach to PACT Act benefits isn’t enough. They want an accelerated timeline and more benefits available to more veterans now.

There’s a legitimate fear of the VA system being overwhelmed with new claims, with the Undersecretary of Health going on the record according to Army Times saying a “substantial number” of claims are possible, but the VA made a hiring push to anticipate that influx of new patients.

The current-at-press-time phased-in option includes basic eligibility to apply, and a modified payment structure for qualifying veterans as we’ll see below.

In the coming months and years, some 100 thousand new applicants are expected to apply thanks to PACT Act eligibility including veterans in “Other Areas Of Exposure” as labeled by the VA.

Those in one of these “other areas” who were part of a “toxic exposure risk activity” on active duty or while on active duty for training may qualify. Others who become eligible over time include:

  • Those who served in Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, or the United Arab Emirates after Aug. 2, 1990;
  • Afghanistan, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, or Syria after Sept. 11, 2001;
  • Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn, Operation Inherent Resolve, or Resolute Support Mission

These veterans may be eligible for zero copays for “most inpatient care” and select outpatient treatment.

At press time, veterans subject to the rules above are still required to wait out the phased-in periods but the Department of Veterans Affairs is said to be finalizing plans to modify or eliminate phased-in PACT Act benefits starting in March 2024.

Related: VA Home Loan Benefit Guide

 

About the author

Editor-in-Chief | + posts

Editor-in-Chief 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.