For decades, veterans suffered in silence from illnesses contracted during work service from exposure to toxic substances, such as Agent Orange, burn pits, contaminated drinking water, and much more.
Although the Department of Veterans Affairs promised benefits for veterans, the eligibility criteria made it impossible for them to receive quality care and benefits until the newly signed PACT Act.
In August 2022, President Biden signed the SFC Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022, or PACT Act delivering on his promise to strengthen health care and benefits for American veterans and their survivors.
Our PACT Act attorneys are committed to helping veterans and their survivors by filing claims with the VA and obtaining the compensation they deserve for their service-connected disabilities or illnesses.
How Veterans Suffered Harm Due to Toxic Environmental Exposure During Their Service
According to the US Department of Defense, there are more than 600 military sites that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) labels as superfund sites, polluted sites requiring a long-term response to clean up hazardous material contaminations.
Most of these sites have toxic soil and groundwater contamination far exceeding the EPA safe limits, which can cause severe irreversible damage.
For years, veterans continued to work at these sites without ever knowing the toxicity they’re exposed to and the effects it may have on their lives. Let’s look at an example.
Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune left a toxic legacy after the military closed down two wells containing contaminated water.
The veterans and their families used to drink the water at Camp Lejeune, primarily contaminated with perchloroethylene (PCE), tetrachloroethylene (TCE), and other volatile organic compounds. Most of the contaminations came from using chemical solvents to clean military equipment.
From 1957 to 1987, residents at Camp Lejeune drank contaminated water, 3,400 times above the EPA safety standards, causing severe damage to their nervous system.
For 20 years, the government did not disclose information about Camp Lejeune water contamination, with one report estimating more than 50,000 veterans suffering from illnesses, including cancer, leukemia, birth defects, and many more, resulting from exposure to contaminated water.
Camp Lejeune is one of many examples of toxic contamination at military bases that made headlines in the United States. When the media reached out to veterans, most revealed they were unaware of the toxic contamination at the time.
As soon as these veterans approached the VA for benefits and healthcare, they got buried in mountains of paperwork and were eventually rejected due to the outdated VA evaluation process.
Many experts believe that VA denied claims because processing claims met that the military recognized toxic contamination at their bases and its impact on its service members.
The PACT Act 2022, including the Camp Lejeune Justice Act of 2022, came as good news for veterans. President Joe Biden made it his mission to ensure the veterans receive the healthcare and benefits they deserve following the loss of his son to brain cancer which he believed came from burn pits exposure.
How Does the PACT Act Help American Veterans and Their Survivors?
The historic legislation aims to provide health care and benefits to 5 million veterans impacted by toxic exposure by serving the country.
The following are key takeaways of the PACT Act:
- Expand access to VA health care services for all veterans exposed to toxic substances during their service by ensuring high-quality health care screenings. The bill also expands health care services for post-9/11 combat veterans by extending their enrollment period from five to ten years following their discharge. Those who do not qualify for the window period will receive one year to enroll themselves in VA health care. The PACT Act allows more veterans to receive VA health care services without proving a service-connected disability.
- The VA process regarding the presumption of military environmental exposure and its links with military service for various chronic conditions made it difficult for veterans to prove their illnesses. However, with the PACT Act, VA must introduce a new evaluation and determination process of diseases based on evidence and transparency, allowing the department to make quick policy decisions. The new process will enable more veterans to tap into the VA health care services and receive the benefits they previously couldn’t.
- The PACT Act adds 23 presumptive conditions to their list, meaning certain veterans enrolled with VA health care and suffering from those conditions will no longer have to prove service connection. Such an initiative will help reduce paperwork and examination and speed up the process of receiving benefits. The 23 presumptive conditions include 11 respiratory-related conditions and different types of cancer, including melanoma, brain, and kidney cancer, among others. Surviving family members of veterans who died from any 23 presumptive conditions may be eligible for benefits.
- VA must embark on new studies regarding veterans with a history of service in Southwest Asia during the Persian Gulf War and analyze post-9/11 veterans’ health trends to understand the impact of toxic exposures. The new law requires the VA secretary to develop a five-year plan for conducting toxic exposure research.
- To properly conduct screening and provide high-quality health care, the Act requires VA to ensure their personnel has additional education and training. It also requires regular screening for their enrolled veterans for concerns related to toxic exposures and an outreach program to create awareness of the VA benefits and supports for toxic exposure.
- To ensure VA can provide services and benefits to eligible veterans, the PACT Act provides the necessary resources, including an increased workforce, better mechanisms for enhanced claims processing, and investment in VA healthcare facilities through the authorization of 31 health clinics and research facilities across 19 states.
- The bill increases presumptive exposure locations for Agent Orange and the Cold War radiation.
The PACT Act also includes the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, which provides people residing at Camp Lejeune from August 1, 1953, to December 31, 1987, for more than 30 days an opportunity to recover compensation that they were previously denied.
Active duty or former service members, military personnel, family members residing at the camp, and civilians working there can now claim compensation for their Camp Lejeune water contamination injuries.
What Do Presumptive Conditions Mean for Veterans?
To receive benefits and health care, the veterans must prove that their time in the service was the underlying cause of their illnesses.
Such eligibility conditions made it difficult for many veterans to receive disability benefits since establishing service-related connections was more challenging than said.
However, the PACT legislation adds more than 20 presumptive conditions. These illnesses the VA assumes automatically arise from a veteran’s service, and there is no need to prove service connection. Veterans only need to fulfill the service requirements for the presumption, such as dates and locations of service.
Such initiatives under the PACT Act allow hope for many veterans stuck in a limbo of paperwork and incorporates them into the VA health care system.
How to File a Disability Compensation Claim with Veterans Affairs?
The first step to filing a disability compensation claim is to find out whether you’re eligible. Once you know that you can apply for the claim, you must gather the following supporting documents:
- VA medical records and hospital reports that prove your illness or show how the disability got worse. Veterans can also submit private medical records and hospital reports.
- Supporting statements from family members, colleague veterans, clergy, and law enforcement to support your claim and how the illness affected your health.
- Discharge papers to show your time in military service
- Service treatment records
Veterans can submit a claim and provide the necessary evidence within one year of claim submission.
However, the VA recommends submitting the evidence and claim together to ensure a quick process.
The process of submitting claims is straightforward.
Veterans can file disability compensation claims either online on the VA portal or by printing the application form, filling it out, and sending it to the following address:
- Department of Veterans Affairs, Claims Intake Center, PO Box 4444 Janesville, WI 53547-4444
Veterans can also submit their claims in person by bringing the filled application form with supporting documents to the nearest VA regional office.
As of August 2022, it takes the VA 110.9 days, on average, to decide on a claim application. You don’t need to do anything during that time unless the VA requires further information or documentation, for which they will send you a letter.
My Claims Got Denied Earlier, but Now VA Considers My Condition Presumptive. What Should I Do?
Since the VA already has your claim application in their database, you should consider filing a supplemental claim for the VA to review your case once again.
The VA states that they will reach out to all previously denied veterans who are now eligible for claims. However, it is best not to wait around and send a supplemental claim to start the process.
Do Veteran Survivors Receive Any Compensation under the Pact Act?
If you are a surviving veteran family member, you may be eligible for VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation payment, one-time accrued benefit payment, and a survivor’s pension.
Surviving family members may also receive the following VA benefits:
- Burial benefits and memorial items
- Burial allowance
- Education and training
- Health care
- VA home loan
Previously it was difficult for veterans and their families to recover compensation for their illnesses arising from toxic exposure.
However, under the PACT Act and the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, the United States aim to correct their wrong and provide veterans exposed to toxic chemicals with the healthcare and benefits they deserve.
Reach out to a PACT Act Attorney for Help with Your Case
If you are a veteran or a surviving family member of a veteran, you may be eligible for compensation for your suffering. Reach out to our experienced toxic exposure lawyer for a free consultation on your case.
Our toxic exposure attorneys are advocates of veteran rights, and even before the PACT Act, we helped protect the rights of many veterans and helped them navigate through the claims process.
We would be honored to stand by your side and consult with you on your toxic exposure case.