Understanding the PACT Act and What It Means For Veterans
Hailed as the most significant expansion of care in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ history, the PACT Act made it law that veterans must no longer prove that their illnesses were caused by toxic exposures suffered in the military to get VA coverage.
The full name of the legislation is Sergeant First Class (SFC) Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act. Named after SFC Robinson, who died in 2020 from toxic exposure during his service in Iraq, the Act may also retroactively pay veterans denied care after claiming disability caused by toxic exposures if applied for before November 2023.
In partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Bob Woodruff Foundation hosted a webinar to discuss what the PACT Act means for veterans and their families and how they can access benefits. Below is a brief recap of the discussion.
What is the PACT ACT?
The PACT Act transforms how the VA looks at the presumptive conditions of recent veterans. It codifies into law a process of how the VA continually looks at new potential exposures and tee up recommendations for the Secretary to review.
What is a Presumption Condition or Exposure?
This means that the VA presumes you have a condition as a result of where and when you served. If you deployed within the CENTCOM area of responsibility, the VA presumes you have been exposed to toxins just by being there.
The PACT Act expanded benefits for Gulf War era and post-9/11 Veterans by adding more than 20 burn pits and other toxic exposure presumptive conditions.
When and How Can You Apply?
Veterans and survivors should apply now. If veterans apply for benefits before August 10, 2023, and their application is granted, benefits could be backdated to the date of the bill signing. This means veterans will be paid the amount they would have received from August 10, 2022, to the date their application was granted.
If you’re already enrolled in VA healthcare, get screened. Veterans will get a toxic exposure screening as part of their routine care.
Surviving family members of a Veteran may also be eligible for VA benefits, including burial benefits and memorial items, burial allowance, education and training, health care through the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA), and a VA-backed home loan.
Misconceptions About the PACT Act
There’s anxiety concerning current benefits, including what is the likelihood of benefits going down. If you apply based on the listed exposure conditions, you have a 97% chance of your benefits either remaining the same or going up.
What Is the Cost of Applying for Benefits
Applying is free. You don’t need to pay to apply for your benefits. You can apply directly through the VA or veteran service organizations.