Under the PACT Act, passed in August 2022, the VA must now comply with new annual procedures to consider adding new presumptive conditions to VA regulations. Veterans and advocates should take advantage of these opportunities to try getting new rules for automatic disability benefits based on exposure to forever chemicals.
Although much of the PACT Act was focused on burn pits, these new presumption procedures aren’t limited to diseases due to burn pit pollution. This may open new possibilities for presumptions based on exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)—so-called forever chemicals that are the subject of emerging research showing severe health effects.
Since the 1960s, the military has used aqueous film-forming foam, which contains PFAS, in firefighting. And not long after, data showed an association with long-term health problems. Data collection is ongoing, but shows extremely high levels of PFAS contamination in ground and drinking water in a large number of DoD installations.
Environmental Working Group has an excellent interactive resource to help you identify whether one of the installations you were stationed has levels above the EPA advisory limit (hint: it’s a large majority of the sites tested). Some standout offenders include:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recommended severe reductions in environmental contamination by PFAS. In 2022, EPA reduced the recommended exposure limit based on research showing that “some negative health effects may occur with concentrations of PFOA or PFOS in water that are near zero.”
And now, the National Academies of Sciences—the organization that VA relies on for medical research to determine new presumptions—has found credible links between PFAS and certain disabilities. A July 2022 report shows that “[t]here is sufficient evidence of association between exposure to PFAS and increased risk of decreased antibody response in adults and children, dyslipidemia in adults and children, decreased infant and fetal growth, and kidney cancer in adults.”
Other possible associated conditions, which need to be studied further due to insignificant data, include: breast cancer in adults, liver enzyme alterations in adults and children, pregnancy-induced hypertension, increased risk of testicular cancer in adults, thyroid disease and dysfunction in adults, and increased risk of ulcerative colitis in adults, cardiovascular outcomes other than high cholesterol or developmental outcomes other than small reductions in birthweight.
In sum, veterans with unexplained conditions including kidney cancer, breast cancer, liver conditions, testicular cancer, and thyroid cancer should consider whether they were at a base with high levels of PFAS during service. And the veterans disability industry should pressure VA into considering presumptions for these conditions during the next annual notice and comment period.
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