Expanded Benefits for Veterans’ Toxic Exposure Mark a Milestone as the Law’s Anniversary Approaches

by Gabriel Martinez
fokus keyword PACT Act

In Afghanistan, Nicole Leger often associated burn pits on military bases with campfires rather than health risks. While serving as an impromptu medic for the U.S. Army, she disposed of sensitive documents by throwing them into the flames during quiet moments with fellow soldiers.

She never considered this dangerous, remarking, “It was just part of the mission. So we had to get it done.”

However, her health began to decline after her return home, particularly with worsening sinus problems and difficulty breathing at night. She reflected that this was not who she used to be before her military service.

Though Leger was already receiving disability benefits for PTSD, migraines, and a hip fracture, her monthly payments expanded only after President Joe Biden enacted the PACT Act last year. Now, at age 34, she and her fiancé have relocated to a larger home in Tampa, Florida, to accommodate their four children.

Leger is among the beneficiaries of the most significant veterans’ assistance expansion in recent decades, and the administration is working hard to enroll as many veterans as possible as the law’s first anniversary nears. Even though there is no application deadline, those who file by Wednesday could receive retroactive payments if their claims are approved.

The law links certain cancers and ailments to exposure to burn pits used for disposing of trash and potentially hazardous materials. The list of problems presumed to result from exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War has also been extended.

Biden will commemorate the law’s anniversary at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Salt Lake City. According to available data, nearly 786,000 disability claims have been filed under the PACT Act, with almost 435,000 processed and over 348,000 approved.

About 111,000 veterans, believed to have toxic exposure, have signed up for VA health care since the law’s enactment. In addition, over 4.1 million veterans have undergone toxic screenings to analyze potential exposure and decide if further tests are required.

The VA has faced challenges implementing the law, despite hiring new staff to handle an unprecedented surge in claims. The backlog is around 266,000, meaning waits of at least four months for claims to be processed, and this is expected to grow further. Concerns about the growing backlog have been raised, including by Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough has admitted that more work needs to be done but insisted that the VA is using new technology to process claims more quickly.

The VA continues its outreach efforts, spending $7.5 million on advertising and hosting events nationwide. Comedian Jon Stewart, a key advocate for the PACT Act, has contributed by posting videos on social media platforms.

The outreach has had a positive impact, attracting veterans like Eli Feret and Cole Lyle, who praised the process and were encouraged to apply.

The PACT Act faced hurdles before its approval, with some advocates even camping outside the Capitol to press for its passage. President Biden, who was dealing with COVID-19 at the time, sent McDonough to speak with the veterans, and Congress eventually passed the measure.

McDonough sees the PACT Act as a transformative step for the VA, enabling the largest expansion of VA benefits and care in its history.

The legislation has allowed the VA to pursue expanding its facilities in 19 states, provide better incentives for employee recruitment, retention, and relocation, and increase staff by over 21,000 healthcare workers and 4,300 benefits processing employees.

Despite this, officials have admitted that the process remains sluggish, particularly in hiring new healthcare workers, leading some candidates to look elsewhere.

The PACT Act also considers breast cancer, like that discovered by former Army National Guard Sgt. Iona Bussiere, to be connected to proximity to burn pits. While she wishes the VA had provided cancer screenings sooner, she appreciates the relief the benefits have brought her.

Others, like Air Force veteran Marcellus Beasley, have found recent changes at the VA to be more efficient. Under the PACT Act, he received expanded help for his skin condition, psoriasis, and expressed how this has had a significant impact on him.

The PACT Act’s benefits are not only for veterans. Over 16,000 surviving family members have filed claims, with many, like Ailyn Colby, who lost her husband to colon cancer, now qualifying for compensation.

The expanded benefits mark a notable shift in veterans’ care and support, illustrating a concerted effort by the administration to address and recognize the long-term effects of toxic exposure in military service. While there are still challenges to overcome, the impact on those who served and their families is tangible and profound.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about fokus keyword PACT Act

What is the PACT Act and how does it benefit veterans?

The PACT Act is legislation signed by President Joe Biden that expanded monthly disability payments for veterans, taking into account the impact of toxic exposures like burn pits. It represents the largest expansion of veterans assistance in decades and presumes certain cancers and ailments to be connected to these exposures. Under the act, veterans can collect payments retroactive to the previous year if approved.

Who can apply for benefits under the PACT Act?

Veterans who have served near burn pits and were exposed to toxic materials, or those who served during the Vietnam War and were exposed to Agent Orange, can apply for benefits under the PACT Act. Surviving family members can also submit claims.

How has the implementation of the PACT Act been?

Implementing the PACT Act has been challenging for the VA, with a backlog of about 266,000 claims, meaning waits of at least four months. Despite the challenges, the VA has expanded its staff and is using new technology to process claims faster.

What ailments and conditions are covered under the PACT Act?

The law covers certain cancers and ailments presumed to be connected to burn pits and potentially toxic materials. For Vietnam War veterans, conditions like hypertension were added to the list of problems presumed to be caused by exposure to Agent Orange.

How is the Veterans Affairs department handling the influx of claims under the PACT Act?

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough said that the VA is doing better than expected based on internal projections, despite the growing backlog. The department is actively working to sign up as many veterans as possible, engaging in advertising and outreach efforts.

What are some personal experiences of veterans who have benefited from the PACT Act?

The text includes multiple personal accounts, such as Nicole Leger, who experienced health problems after exposure to burn pits and found relief through the expanded benefits. Others like Marcellus Beasley have noted recent improvements in efficiency and assistance with conditions like psoriasis.

Was there any opposition to the PACT Act?

Yes, there was a moment when the PACT Act seemed unlikely to get approved, as it stalled when Republicans balked. A pressure campaign, including personal intervention from President Biden and Veterans Affairs Secretary McDonough, helped in getting the legislation passed.

What are some additional provisions in the PACT Act beyond healthcare benefits?

The legislation authorizes the VA to expand its facilities through 31 leases and pursue them in 19 states. VA employees can now receive higher bonuses, more help with student loans, and there are added incentives for recruitment, retention, and relocation. It has also resulted in the expansion of over 21,000 healthcare workers and 4,300 employees for processing benefits.

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Timothy K August 6, 2023 - 12:18 pm

its about time they do something for the veterans who served near the burn pits! This law seems good but its implementation seems a bit slow. hopefully they’ll speed up.

Brian L August 6, 2023 - 5:32 pm

The backlog is awful. 266,000 waiting for claims to be processed, expected to grow to 730,000? This is an emergency, they need to hire more staff, not just spend on advertising.

Karen B August 6, 2023 - 8:13 pm

I’m so glad to read about real people benefitting from this Act. Nicole’s story touched my heart. its not just about policies, it’s about the human lives affected!

James T August 7, 2023 - 6:20 am

Wow, I didn’t knw about this PACT act before reading this. It’s great that there’s help for our vets, but the backlog is concerning. What are they doing to fix that?

Sarah M August 7, 2023 - 11:38 am

My dad served in Vietnam, and he has some health issues. Could this act help him? It’s a long article, but it seems like it might apply to him.


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