What the PACT Act Means for Veterans

Q. My husband is a veteran who was exposed to toxins while he was in service, and we believe that might have been what contributed to him developing significant health problems as he has gotten older. I remember hearing of legislation that was in progress to help deliver more timely benefits and services to all generations of veterans who may have been impacted by toxic exposures while serving our country. Do you have any information about the status of this law?

My husband will also be needing significant assistance in the not-so-distant future, and we’re not sure how long he’ll be able to remain in our home. How can we apply for veteran’s benefits to help pay for his care? Thanks for your help!

A.  In President Biden’s first State of the Union address earlier this year, he called on Congress to pass a law to deliver on our country’s promise to take care of veterans by ensuring that veterans devastated by toxic exposures finally get the health care and benefits they deserve. Congress and the president this week delivered on this promise.

President Biden signed a bill into law Wednesday that expands health care benefits to veterans exposed to toxic chemicals from burn pits, radiation, chemicals, and other deployment-related health hazards. The bipartisan bill, called the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, or PACT Act, is the most significant expansion of veteran health care in 30 years, since the Agent Orange Act.

What the PACT Act Entails

Many veterans over the years have been exposed to burn pits, which release dangerous toxins into the air that may have caused short- and long-term health conditions. Here’s how the PACT Act protects these and other veterans:

  • The PACT Act links 23 types of cancer, respiratory illnesses, and other conditions to burn pit exposure and removes the need for some veterans and their survivors to prove service connection if they are diagnosed with any of those conditions.
  • The PACT Act expands access to VA health care services for veterans exposed to burn pits during their military service.
    • For post-9/11 combat veterans, the bill extends the period of time they have to enroll in VA health care from five to ten years post-discharge.
    • For those combat veterans who do not fall within that window, the bill also creates a one-year open enrollment period.
    • These expansions mean that more veterans can enroll in VA health care without having to prove a service-connected disability.
  • The PACT Act also extends more help to Vietnam War veterans exposed to Agent Orange and to veterans exposed to radiation or other hazards during their service.
  • Survivors of veterans who died due to one of these conditions may now also be eligible for benefits.
  • The PACT Act requires that veterans enrolled in VA health care be screened regularly for toxic exposure-related concerns.
  • This bill also delivers critical resources to the VA to ensure it can deliver timely access to services and benefits for all veterans eligible – including those already enrolled.
  • The PACT Act provides VA with mechanisms to enhance claims processing and to increase the workforce.
  • The bill also invests in VA health care facilities by authorizing 31 major medical health clinics and research facilities in 19 states.

How Can Veterans’ Survivors Get Compensation Payments Under the PACT Act?

If you’re a surviving family member of a Veteran who was exposed to a burn pit or other toxins, you may be eligible for these benefits:

Biden said the law fulfills a promise he made when he took office, meeting a “sacred obligation” to get veterans needed benefits and care. “These conditions have already taken such a toll on so many veterans and their families,” Biden said, referring to 23 illnesses that the new law designates as service-connected diagnoses, making those afflicted eligible for expedited health care and disability compensation.

The VA’s new website for the PACT Act can be found here. Veterans, family members, and survivors also can call (800) 698-2411 to have their questions answered.

There May Be a Link Between Certain Toxins, Such as Agent Orange, and Parkinson’s Disease

Agent Orange was a tactical herbicide the U.S. military used to clear leaves and vegetation for military operations mainly during the Vietnam War. Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange may have certain related illnesses.

Some scientists suggest that there’s a link between exposure to certain environmental toxins, such as pesticides, heavy metals, and other substances, and an elevated risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s. Although Agent Orange has not been definitively proven to cause Parkinson’s disease, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs added Parkinson’s disease to a list of conditions possibly associated with exposure to it. For more details on hazardous materials exposure and the PACT Act and other benefits, click here.

Benefits for Veterans That Help Pay for Long-Term Care

Veteran who have a 70 percent or greater service-connected disability may be entitled to free long-term care supports and services at home or in a VA-designated nursing home, and other special support services such as grants to make their homes more accessible.

For veterans who do not have a service-connected disability, or have a disability rating less than 70 percent, these free benefits are typically not available. However, any veteran who was not dishonorably discharged and who served at least 90 days’ active duty, with at least one day during wartime, may be eligible for the Veteran’s Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit, which helps pay for unreimbursed medical expenses for veterans and their surviving spouses. Aid and Attendance is an incredibly valuable program for those veterans who need assistance with the activities of daily living.

Here at the Farr Law Firm, we work with veterans and their spouses to evaluate whether they qualify, or may potentially qualify in the future, for the Veterans Aid and Attendance Benefit and/or Medicaid, and we deal with all the paperwork.

Let Us Help Apply for Veterans’ Benefits and Medicaid

Applying for veterans’ pension benefits can be a very confusing process. Here at the Farr Law Firm, we work with veterans and their spouses to evaluate whether they qualify or may in the future qualify for the Veterans Aid and Attendance Benefit and/or Medicaid, and we deal with all the paperwork.

As a Certified Elder Law Attorney and an Accredited Attorney with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, I understand both the Veterans Aid and Attendance Benefit and the Medicaid program and the interaction between both entitlement programs. Please call us at any time to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation:

Veterans Aid and Attendance Attorney Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Veterans Aid and Attendance Attorney Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Veterans Aid and Attendance Attorney Rockville: 301-519-8041
Veterans Aid and Attendance Attorney Washington, D.C.: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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