President Joseph Biden signed the bipartisan Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022 (PACT Act) into law Aug. 10, 2022. Among its many measures was an overhaul of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) treatment of “presumptive conditions for toxic exposure.”
For veterans who can match their conditions with dates of service and locations on the VA’s preapproved list, the process of obtaining their earned benefits is far more straightforward compared to those who must prove their disability originated from a toxic exposure during their service.
Prior to the PACT Act, the VA recognized very few lung-related conditions as presumptively originating from toxic exposure. For veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan, and other post-9/11 conflicts, as well as Gulf War-era vets, where burning waste in massive pits was standard practice, this created a significant barrier to obtaining benefits.
Post-9/11, American troops frequently used burn pits in the desert to eliminate waste – a practice the VA said the Department of Defense plans to end. From Styrofoam to food, from human excrement to unused artillery, anything the military needed to remove from a camp or ensure it wouldn’t fall into the enemies’ hands went into burn pits.
The VA said a number of factors may determine the link between a veteran’s burn pit exposure and a later condition. Depending on what was burning, whether someone was near or far, or upwind or downwind, and whether they had other health conditions may all play a role in how a person’s body reacted to exposure.
The PACT Act added 24 conditions to the VA’s list of presumptive conditions. A VA resource breaks them into two categories: cancer and other illnesses.
The following cancers are now considered presumptive conditions from toxic burn pits:
The following illnesses have been added as presuming to have been caused by toxic exposure to burn pits:
While some presumptive conditions will not take effect until dates staggered into the future, most will be immediately active for veterans seeking to use their VA benefits.
Previously, only asthma, rhinitis, and sinusitis were recognized as respiratory illnesses on the presumptive condition list. Veterans of 9/11 also had only five years after service to seek fully covered VA benefits, and now will have 10 years after discharge to have the VA provide full benefits.
Ultimately, the PACT Act extends benefits to millions of veterans and their family members, giving them quicker access to the care they earned through sacrifice to their country. To find out if you or your family could benefit from the PACT Act legislation, contact the team at Berry Law today.
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