Culpeper Star-Exponent: Honoring our PACT Act boosts benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits, toxins

CULPEPER STAR-EXPONENT, CULPEPER STAR-EXPONENT

Starting Saturday, U.S. military veterans discharged or released between Sept. 11, 2001, and Oct. 1, 2013, who have never enrolled in VA health care will be eligible for benefits from U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

They can take advantage of a one-year, special enrollment period starting Oct. 1, according to U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th.

Eligible vets will have served in a combat theater after the Persian Gulf War or in combat against a hostile force after Nov. 11, 1998, the newly passed Honoring Our PACT Act states.

The PACT Act adds 23 conditions to the list of presumptive service-connected conditions due to burn pits and other toxic exposure for Gulf War-era and post-9/11 veterans, Spanberger’s office said in a statement Thursday. Under the new law, veterans who meet these conditions will no longer need to prove that their service caused their condition.

The Honoring our PACT Act will mobilize health care and benefits for vets exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances, as well as veterans of the Vietnam War, Gulf War and the post-9/11 era.

Spanberger, a former officer with two federal agencies, voted for the bipartisan bill. Signed into law in August, the PACT Act will provide generations of Virginia veterans and their families with the care they deserve through the VA, the congresswoman’s office said.

“The men and women of our armed forces put their lives and health on the line to protect their fellow Americans,” Spanberger said. “Through their selfless service to our country, many of our service members were exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic substances.

“For decades, our nation’s toxic-exposed veterans and veterans advocates have fought to make sure that these heroes get the same level of care as everyone else who puts on the uniform,” she said. “With this legislation, we are making decades-overdue progress to help the VA fulfill its promise to care for all Virginia veterans who have borne the battle.”

With the legislation now signed into law, post-9/11 combat veterans who were discharged or released on or after Oct. 1, 2013 are eligible to receive VA health care for any condition related to their service, for up to 10 years from the date of their most recent discharge or separation.

For burn-pit exposure, the law also adds more locations to more toxic-exposed veterans can receive disability compensation, Spanberger’s office said.

It adds the presumptive conditions of high blood pressure and monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance to the list of presumptive conditions, five additional locations for presumptive exposure to Agent Orange, and three additional locations for presumptive radiation exposure for Vietnam-era veterans.

The law also requires the VA to provide a toxic-exposure screening to every veteran.

Lastly, the Honoring Our PACT Act expands the benefits available to a veteran’s surviving family members, Spanberger’s office said.

In January 2023, the VA will begin processing benefits from the Honoring Our PACT Act.

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