The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022 (PACT Act), named for a veteran who struggled to obtain his rightful benefits during his lifetime, will have downstream repercussions for the surviving families of veterans as well as for the veterans themselves.
While most of the conversation surrounding the PACT Act has rightly addressed veterans, their medical needs, and the expanded capabilities for accessing treatment, it’s worth noting that the bipartisan legislation will also address those whose loved ones died without receiving the benefits they earned.
Veterans whose conditions the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) never recognized as being connected to their service and who have died may leave benefits for their surviving families now that their conditions or service locations have been recognized.
Spouses, dependent children, and even parents of deceased veterans often qualify for some military benefits, including payments from the VA if the veteran had a service-connected disability. For many illnesses or disabilities, it may be difficult to prove a service connection, and it can take years of paperwork to get recognition, particularly when those disabilities may have been caused by toxic exposure years or even decades before.
Yet, some dates and locations of service are easier to connect back to toxic substances that were commonly used by the U.S. military in that era. Consider the Vietnam War and Agent Orange, the wars after 9/11 and the use of burn pits, and the Cold War and the proliferation of nuclear weapons’ transport and storage.
Many of these toxic substances have clear, known results, such as burn pits and lung damage, or radiation exposure and cancer rates. The VA keeps a list of conditions that are presumably caused by these known toxic exposures, and for veterans whose disability lines up with the rubric for condition, dates, and locations of service, obtaining benefits is far less laborious. However, these lists haven’t always been comprehensive. Consider, before the PACT Act, over 240,000 veterans signed up for the VA’s burn-pit registrybut nearly 70% of claims were denied.
With the new changes, the VA now accepts more presumptive conditions for toxic exposure. For the surviving family of a deceased veteran, that makes it far easier to prove the case for their loved one’s VA benefits. Instead of jumping through hoops and filing endless paperwork to make the case for a loved one who can no longer stand up for a doctor’s examination, they can use a more objective set of working assumptions.
The PACT Act expands the list of presumptive conditions for toxic exposures, adding 23 conditions the VA will recognize for post-9/11 veterans exposed to burn pits, including 11 respiratory diseases and several forms of cancer.
Survivors of veterans with burn pit exposure whose loved ones were denied VA coverage of a service-connected disability whose conditions or locations of service have now been updated to this list can apply to collect benefits posthumously. These benefits include:
The PACT Act allows veterans’ survivors to apply for survivor benefits retroactively if their loved one had a presumptive condition of toxic exposure to burn pits in the post-9/11 era.
If your loved one had a condition arising from their exposure to a toxic burn pit during service, you may be eligible to file for survivors benefits with the VA. For help getting the benefits you deserve, contact the team at Berry Law today.
Our monthly newsletter features about important and up-to-date veterans' law news, keeping you informed about the changes that matter.