President Biden’s oldest son, Joseph, died of brain cancer on May 30, 2015. Since then, Biden has publicly connected his son’s brain cancer to toxic burn pits. According to Biden, Joseph’s exposure to burn pits was extensive; therefore, taking up the cause to ensure expanded healthcare and services would be available to soldiers like his son.
During President Biden’s first State of the Union address, he called on Congress to send a bill addressing toxic exposures that have impacted Veterans, providing them with health care and benefits. Congress acted, and on August 10, 2022, the bipartisan Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act was signed into law. The PACT Act was named in honor of a decorated combat medic who died from a rare form of lung cancer. The White House stated this is the most significant expansion of benefits and services for toxic-exposed Veterans in more than 30 years.
The PACT Act has raised awareness about burn pits. Most of us were unaware of them and were unsure if we knew what burn pits were. The American Cancer Society describes burn pits as large areas where tons of waste products (including trash, plastics, wood, metal, paints, solvents, munitions, and medical and human waste) are burned in the open air. A friend who served during the Gulf War said his tent was next to a burn pit, and often ashes would fall on his tent. The black smoke and smell were, at times, hard to handle. Today, this Veteran suffers from asthma as a result of the exposure. The VA estimates as many as 3.5 million Veterans may have been affected by burn pits and other airborne hazards during service¹.
Veterans now have additional benefits for exposure to burn pits in several countries, additional presumptive conditions for Agent Orange exposure, and provisions for victims of water contamination at Camp Lejeune. The PACT Act added to the list of health conditions that the VA assumes are caused by toxic exposure. Under the PACT Act, veterans are entitled to VA health care and compensation benefits if they have qualifying service in certain areas during either the Vietnam, Gulf War, or post-911 wartime. This includes cancers and diseases such as brain cancer, kidney or pancreatic cancer, and Agent Orange. For an extensive list of conditions, visit va.gov/hazardous materials exposure.
The PACT Act will²:
- To ensure veterans receive high-quality healthcare screenings and services related to potential toxic exposures, the PACT Act expands access to VA healthcare services for veterans exposed during their military service.
- The legislation removes the need for certain veterans and their survivors to prove service connection if diagnosed with one of 23 specific conditions, including 11 respiratory-related conditions.
- To better understand the impact of toxic exposures, the PACT Act requires VA to conduct new studies of veterans who served in Southwest Asia during the Gulf War and analyses of post-9/11 Veterans’ health trends. The new law also directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to convene a new interagency working group to develop a five-year strategic plan on toxic exposure research.
- Ensuring veterans get the care they need includes ensuring they are screened for toxic exposure and that VA personnel have the appropriate education and training. The PACT Act requires Veterans enrolled in VA health care to be screened regularly for toxic exposure-related concerns. This new law also requires VA to establish an outreach program for veterans regarding toxic exposure-related benefits and supports and to require additional toxic exposure-related education and training for VA personnel.
- This bill also delivers resources to the VA to ensure it can provide timely access to services and benefits for all eligible Veterans – including those already enrolled.
If a Veteran or surviving spouse submitted a claim prior to August 14, 2023, they may receive benefits backdated to August 10, 2022. After August 14, a claim can still be submitted but will not be eligible for backdated funds. Over 750,000 PACT Act claims have been filed since it went into effect in January 2023. Therefore, processing claims for most benefits, including Pension with Aid and Attendance, has slowed down. Suppose a Veteran or surviving spouse submits any claim and the Veteran served during Vietnam, Gulf War, or post-911 wartime. In that case, the VA will research potential conditions related to the PACT Act, which will extend the processing time for non-PACT Act claims. The current average processing time for Pension with Aid and Attendance is nearly five months.
Compensation derived from filing a PACT Act claim cannot be combined with Pension claims with or without Aid and Attendance or Housebound.
How can this help your agency?
Since this benefit is not income-based, Veterans who served during Vietnam, Gulf War, or post-911 wartime could be eligible for disability compensation which may be used for home care. When conducting home consultations, asking if they or their spouse served in the military is critical. Often family members fail to disclose this information simply because they don’t realize it matters, and it could possibly help pay for the home care needed. Many Veteran families are unaware of their options for receiving VA funds which can open up the opportunity for home care that they otherwise would not be able to afford.
Understanding the PACT Act, Pension with Aid and Attendance, or Housebound will help your agency open up your market and expand your business, helping those individuals who served our country and their families. For more information on these VA benefits, visit VA.gov.
¹Congressman D.r Raul Ruiz ruiz.hous.gov
²White House Fact Sheet (adapted) https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/08/10/fact-sheet-president-biden-signs-the-pact-act-and-delivers-on-his-promise-to-americas-veterans/