New legislation has been passed to provide benefits for millions of veterans who endured toxic exposure during their service. The full title of the law is the ‘Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2021.’ It’s also known as the Honoring our PACT Act or, more simply, the PACT Act.
The toxic exposure legislation was first introduced in June 2021 after years of pressure from veterans’ rights advocacy groups. On August 2, 2022, the PACT Act was passed by the Senate, despite some opposition from the Republican party.
For several days before the passing of the act, veterans and their loved ones camped outside the steps of the Capitol. When the good news was announced, many cried tears of joy. Over three million veterans stand to benefit from the newly passed legislation.
Millions of veterans have been exposed to toxic chemicals throughout the course of their service. Chemicals such as asbestos and Agent Orange are known to affect service members years after deployment, and doctors are still studying the long-term effects of exposure to these substances.
Toxic chemical exposure is linked to many respiratory illnesses, cancers, and other diseases. Under the new toxic exposure legislation, veterans will not need a nexus letter to prove that an illness is linked to their time on duty. Instead, Veterans Affairs will presume that the illness is linked to toxic exposure during their service.
For most VA disability claims, veterans must provide medical evidence to prove a direct link between an illness and their service. These illnesses are known as service-connected conditions. Under the new legislation, veterans will not be required to prove that their illness or disability was caused by toxic exposure during service. Instead, the Department of Veterans Affairs will automatically presume that this is the case. These illnesses are known as presumptive illnesses. You will only need to prove that you have been diagnosed with the condition and that you served within specified time periods and locations.
Veterans who served during specified time periods and in specified locations will be presumed to have been exposed to burn pits. Under the legislation, the key dates and locations are as follows:
On or after August 2, 1990, in Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), as well as the airspace above any of these locations.
On or after September 11, 2001, in Afghanistan. Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Uzbekistan, and Yemen. The airspace above any of these locations is also included.
When we think of disabilities associated with military service, we’re often referring to physical conditions such as a traumatic brain injury, chronic back pain, or fibromyalgia. Mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety may also come to mind.
Often overlooked are the illness and conditions caused by exposure to toxic chemicals during service. Service members may have come into physical contact with harmful substances, or they may have inhaled toxic fumes. Millions of veterans are battling the long-term effects of exposure to these chemicals.
Agent Orange was a chemical that was sprayed on plants and trees during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971. Veterans who were exposed to this herbicide face an increased risk of developing certain cancers and illnesses.
You may be eligible for VA disability benefits if you served in a location that exposed you to Agent Orange and you have an illness that is linked to the chemical. In these instances, it will be presumed that Agent Orange caused your disability without the need for you to prove a nexus.
Throughout the 20th century, asbestos was used to construct military ships, planes, tanks, and buildings. At the time, not much was known about the dangers of asbestos exposure and inhalation. Many service members who came in contact with the chemical later developed lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other respiratory conditions.
Until very recently, burn pits were commonly used for waste disposal at military bases. These massive, open-air fires were used to burn rubber, plastic, metal, and wood. Chemical and medical waste, clothing, old electronics, and food are also destroyed by burning. Burn pits release toxic chemicals into the air that are extremely harmful when inhaled. Exposed service members are likely to develop chronic respiratory illnesses and cancers.
Not sure if you qualify for toxic exposure benefits? Our knowledgeable veterans’ rights lawyers can advise you on the new provisions and provide guidance on your eligibility.
The newly-passed toxic exposure legislation will make it easier for veterans to get the benefits they deserve. Without the burden of proving a nexus between your service and your disability, your claim can be processed much faster and is less likely to be denied. If you were exposed to a toxic substance such as asbestos, schedule a FREE case review with our VA-accredited attorney today.