Last year, the largest expansion of toxic-exposure benefits marked a new era for veterans suffering from the deadly effects of burn pits, Agent Orange and other poisonous substances encountered in service. Thanks to a historic law, more than a quarter of a million veterans and their survivors have completed such claims, with an 80% approval rate, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Since last August, the Honoring our PACT Act (Public Law 117–168) has added nearly two dozen conditions, including cancers and respiratory diseases, to the list of ailments the VA presumes were caused by military service. That means veterans no longer have to prove their illness stems from their service if they served in eligible countries. The VA has conducted more than 3 million toxic-exposure screenings in addition to processing claims.
The VA only establishes a presumptive condition following a change in law or policy, which is why DAV’s advocacy in enacting the PACT Act was so crucial.
“We are thrilled to see the transformative effect this expansion of toxic-exposure benefits has had on veterans,” said DAV National Legislative Director Joy Ilem. “By lifting the burden of proof off the ailing shoulders of America’s warfighters, our nation is keeping our promise to veterans when they encounter harmful substances in the normal course of their duty.”
Claims related to the PACT Act take an average of 155 days, with just under half of claims taking less than 125 days. The law has also brought more veterans into VA health care, with more than 240,000 enrolling from August last year to April this year, an increase of 36,000 over the same time the year before.
The watershed bill also establishes a dedicated fund ensuring VA health care and benefits under the PACT Act will have sufficient backing in the future.
“DAV’s corps of benefits advocates stand ready to assist veterans, their families and their survivors in filing these toxic-exposure claims,” said DAV National Service Director Jim Marszalek. “Our experts in VA benefits are the best in the business and will always represent you for free, so no matter where you are on your journey to receive justice, you never have to face it alone.”
DAV has been a leader in advocating for toxic-exposure legislation and was the first veterans charity to bring the issue of burn pits to the media’s attention in 2008. DAV Chief Communications and Outreach Officer Dan Clare helped uncover the issue when he was deployed to Iraq by leaking an internal memo explaining the potentially lethal effects of burn pits.
Follow along with updates to this and other legislation affecting veterans and their families by joining DAV CAN (Commander’s Action Network) at davcan.org.