Veterans exposed to harmful substances will find it easier to receive their earned benefits now that the largest and most comprehensive toxic exposure legislation ever is now law.
Signed by President Biden in August, the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act (Public Law 117–168) expands health care benefits to millions of veterans of all eras—including future generations—who come into contact with noxious material while serving in uniform.
Among its many impactful provisions, the Honoring Our PACT Act will reduce bureaucratic obstacles for an estimated 3.5 million veterans who seek VA benefits due to burn pit exposures during the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and other hostile locations. The law adds nearly two dozen presumptive conditions related to burn pit exposure, meaning veterans who served in overseas locations with active burn pits no longer have to prove their exposure or establish direct service connection if diagnosed with ailments listed in the law that are known to cause such conditions.
The new law also expands medical coverage by extending, from five to 10 years, the time period that combat veterans who were discharged or released on or after Oct. 1, 2013, have for guaranteed enrollment in the VA health care system. For combat veterans whose service was completed before that date, the law provides a one-year open enrollment period.
The signing of the PACT Act is the culmination of years of work by DAV members and advocates who lobbied Congress to keep our promise to America’s veterans. In 2008, DAV brought the critical issue of burn pits to the American public’s attention. DAV initiated the pilot for a Burn Pit Registry, which the VA adopted in 2014.
For Vietnam veterans, this landmark legislation will finally make hypertension a presumptive condition for those exposed to Agent Orange, making it simpler for the Department of Veterans Affairs to award benefits to them or their survivors. The law also expands all Agent Orange presumptions to cover veterans who served in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Guam, American Samoa and Johnston Atoll.
“The Honoring Our PACT Act represents a major shift in how the VA will care for veterans exposed to toxic chemicals and other hazardous substances,” said DAV National Legislative Director Joy Ilem. “This legislation is another step toward ensuring this nation makes good on its promise to care for all the brave men and women who volunteer to serve their country and defend our freedom.”
“No longer will our veterans exposed to harmful substances have to fight the VA for the benefits they earned in service to us all,” added DAV National Commander Joe Parsetich. “This is a historic victory for veterans, and DAV is proud to have been there every step of the way in advocating for this lifesaving legislation.”