James T. Marszalek, National Service Director

It’s astonishing to believe we are marking the 20th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. As a young Marine-turned-benefits advocate who was only a couple of years into my career with DAV, I remember the first wave of injured Iraq War veterans who came to the office in San Diego seeking assistance.

Since that time, it’s been my privilege to provide service and guidance to these men and women while working shoulder to shoulder with them on DAV’s team.

While we rightly reflect and honor the courage and sacrifice of those who served in Iraq, far too many Americans returned home unaware of the invisible damage inflicted on their bodies and minds. Diseases and illnesses—cancers, respiratory conditions, skin ailments, or conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries—now affect their everyday lives.

Today, we know more about the effects of service-related traumas, adverse health effects from toxic exposures and ramifications from blast injuries than we did two decades ago. DAV continues to lead the way in advocating for the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide the high-quality health care and benefits veterans need and have earned to ensure they are taken care of.

Last August, thanks to the groundbreaking advocacy efforts of DAV, the Honoring our PACT Act was signed into law. Among its many impactful provisions, the 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.

In just the first four months, the VA received nearly 186,000 new disability claims related to the PACT Act, an indication of the potential impact of the measure and the work ahead for the department.

Since our earliest days, DAV’s main goal has been to help establish and provide services for all ill and injured veterans, their families and their survivors. Our national service officers are experts in providing the latest information on veterans benefits, including the most recent updates from the PACT Act. DAV departments and chapters have volunteer service officers ready to provide assistance as well.

DAV benefits advocates at all levels provide best-in-class service, free of charge, and are ready to help file a VA disability claim. They will also be there through the entire process, because no one should have to navigate the VA bureaucracy alone.

DAV remains committed to fighting for veterans of all eras. This includes those who are now being honored for their heroism two decades ago and those who will fight in wars yet to come.

For more information on how to contact your local DAV service office, please visit benefitsquestions.org.