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What Veterans Need to Know About the PACT Act

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  • The PACT Act is a law that dramatically expands the scope of VA disability benefits available to military veterans suffering from the effects of toxic exposure.
  • A massive lobbying effort, led by a combat veteran who died from toxic burn pit exposure, helped pass the PACT Act.
  • The PACT Act increases coverage for veterans harmed by several sources of toxic exposure and names new presumptive conditions, simplifying the process of securing disability benefits.
  • Significant sources of toxic exposure included in the PACT Act include Agent Orange, burn pits, and Camp Lejeune water contamination.

The PACT Act aims to address the health hazard presented by significant exposure to toxins during military service. Under the PACT Act, veterans have greater access to benefits. First, they must establish that their illness is related to one of the sources of exposure identified in the law.

This compensation can help offset the costs of medical treatment, lost earnings, and loss of quality of life for service-connected injuries. Keep in mind veterans may have experienced toxic exposure without their knowledge. It’s a good idea to review the new conditions and locations stipulated by the PACT Act to see if you qualify for additional VA benefits.

The veteran disability claim attorneys of VetLaw can offer you honest, pertinent legal insight. If you have questions about how the PACT Act applies to your VA disability benefits claim, get in touch with our team at VetLaw by calling (855) 434-2492 or using our online contact form to schedule a free case evaluation. We will gladly assist you in determining your eligibility for VA benefits.

Background on the PACT Act and Toxic Exposure in the Military

This legislation is named for Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson, based on his tireless work to expand VA healthcare coverage prior to his death in 2020. Like many vets, he was exposed to dangerous levels of carcinogens and other toxins due to the military’s use of burn pits

This practice has been going on for over 20 years, but as Robinson soon learned, the VA only offered limited coverage. Until recently, the U.S. government did not properly recognize the health risks. Burn pits are just one example of how service members are vulnerable to deadly health issues involving unsafe exposure. 

While fighting lung cancer and an autoimmune disease connected to his service, SFC Robinson and his family made it their mission to convince Congress that the VA should expand its coverage of illnesses connected to various sources of toxic exposure. They argued that PACT Act compensation would offset the glaring gap in VA benefits.

The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act was introduced in 2021 by Rep. Mark Takano. At the time, he was the Chairman of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. The bill received bipartisan support and officially became law in 2022.

Major Sources of Toxic Exposure Recognized by the Pact Act

Serving in the military often involves operating inherently dangerous machines or handling volatile materials in high-risk situations. The effects of toxic exposure can take time to manifest. In effect, the true danger of certain practices or products may not be apparent until later. 

The PACT Act aims to rectify the damage caused by the military overlooking the risk of toxic exposure. The following issues represent major instances of toxic exposure outlined in the PACT Act. 

Agent Orange

During the Vietnam War, military service members were subject to an increased risk of cancer and birth defects in their children after handling Agent Orange, a powerful herbicide. The U.S. sprayed the chemical to eliminate dense vegetation. The military’s goal was to make it harder for enemy combatants to conceal operations and feed themselves. Other chronic conditions, like high blood pressure, have been added as presumptive conditions under the PACT Act.

Toxic Burn Pits

In order to dispose of various forms of waste, the military constructed open-air burn pits. When the materials burn, they produce chemical compounds. These chemicals cause serious chronic conditions if an individual inhales enough of the smoke over a prolonged period. 

Unfortunately, anyone near the burn pits or downwind of the smoke likely suffered exposure to harmful pollutants. Researchers have linked toxic burn pit exposure to a range of illnesses, particularly respiratory issues and several types of cancer.

Camp Lejeune Water Contamination

Several highly toxic chemicals like benzene found their way into Camp Lejeune’s water supply, tainting the base’s drinking water for more than 30 years. Military service members and their families had very limited time to seek compensation for costs outside of the VA, which had limited coverage. Camp Lejeune’s water has been tied to cancer, fertility issues, birth defects, and serious chronic conditions. 

The PACT Act created a fund for Camp Lejeune survivors to claim compensation. The government’s negligence was responsible for the health crisis, but state laws complicated efforts to secure compensation through personal injury claims.

Notable Provisions in the PACT Act

While the consequences of toxic exposure cannot be undone, proponents of the PACT Act say that it provides critical resources for vets and helps advance preventative measures. The highlights of the Honoring Our PACT Act of 2022 are that the law:

  • Established pathways to compensation for veterans who would otherwise be ineligible due to expired statute of limitations
  • Adds 23 new presumptive conditions related to toxic exposure
  • Recognizes new locations where toxic exposure occurred
  • Provides funding and directions to the VA for toxic exposure screenings
  • Invests in research initiatives to prevent and treat illnesses caused by toxic exposure 

How the PACT Act Can Help Veterans Secure the VA Disability Benefits They Need

Sergeant First Class Robinson’s legacy has been transformative for veterans impacted by service-connected exposure to toxins. Before President Biden signed the PACT Act into law in 2022, the VA offered limited benefits to veterans who were ill because they ingested, absorbed, or inhaled toxic substances while fulfilling their duties.

Now, veterans have an easier path to obtain VA disability benefits for injuries related to toxic exposure. When a veteran files a claim with the VA to collect benefits to cover their medical treatment, lost wages, mental health conditions resulting from their injury, or other losses, the onus is on the vet to prove that their illness or injury was caused or exacerbated by their service.

If the VA lists an illness or injury as a presumptive condition, the vet does not need to show that their health problem is connected to their service because the government has already acknowledged that it is a known risk of working with certain materials, in a specific role, or in a particular location. Instead, vets can focus on demonstrating the financial, physical, and mental impact of their toxic exposure-related condition to maximize their benefits.

Veterans Trust Our Team at VetLaw to Manage Their PACT Act Disability Claims

VetLaw was founded by a veteran for veterans. We take our responsibility as your advocates seriously. At VetLaw, we will not hesitate to push back if we believe you deserve more benefits than the VA has approved. Our client reviews can offer a valuable perspective on how we operate with integrity and skill.

In addition to our considerable experience navigating the VA disability claims process, our team has taken on numerous toxic exposure cases. We are well-equipped to provide the insightful guidance and robust representation you need. Our team will work tirelessly to maximize your VA disability benefits under the PACT Act. 

Reach Out to VetLaw For Legal Support With Your Veterans Disability Claim

As many veterans know, securing VA disability benefits can be an ordeal. Too often, it is marked by delays, mountains of paperwork, and dealing with bureaucracy. The VA disability lawyers of VetLaw are here to support you as you pursue a veteran toxic exposure claim. We’re ready to help you take advantage of the benefits you are rightfully owed under the PACT Act.

If you experienced toxic exposure during your military service, you are at risk for a number of severe health issues. The cost of treating your condition shouldn’t fall on you and your family. Don’t hesitate to give us a call at (855) 434-2492 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a free consultation with a VetLaw VA disability benefits attorney.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I do if the VA denied my toxic exposure claim, but my condition is now considered presumptive under the PACT Act?

You should contact VetLaw to file a Supplemental Claim. The VA is reevaluating claims that were previously denied but may now qualify for benefits under the PACT Act, but it’s still a good idea to have the support of a team that specializes in appealing denied VA claims.

How do I show that I qualify for a PACT Act presumptive condition?

You need to demonstrate that you meet the requirements for toxic exposure recognized by the PACT Act. Service records and medical records can help validate your claim. 

For example, say you were trying to file a Camp Lejeune water contamination claim. You would need to show that you were working or living there between August 1953 and December 1987. Additionally, you would need proof your discharge was not dishonorable. Finally, you would show that the VA lists your health issue as a presumptive condition.

How long do I have to file a veterans disability claim based on the new conditions of the PACT Act?

There’s no deadline to file a VA disability claim under the PACT Act. However, it is in your best interest to start the process sooner rather than later. That way you can access your VA disability benefits as soon as possible. If your toxic exposure illness or injury becomes notably worse after your initial claim, a veterans benefits attorney can help you file for an updated disability rating so you can obtain additional benefits.

Can a survivor of a veteran obtain benefits through the PACT Act?

Survivors are potentially eligible to receive VA benefits if their spouse, child, or parent died as a result of a toxic exposure condition outlined in the PACT Act. Depending on the specifics of your claim, you may be able to claim survivor benefits for housing, education, medical costs, and funeral expenses.