Named after SFC Heath Robinson, who died in 2020 from toxic exposure in service, the PACT Act represents the VA’s most significant expansion of care in decades. It expands eligibility for health care and benefits, requires research studies on the mortality of Veterans who served in Southwest Asia, and analyzes post-9/11 Veteran health trends.
Increased Access to VA Health Care
In addition to screening veterans for toxic exposures, the PACT Act expands access to VA health care by extending the period in which post-9/11 combat veterans can enroll from five to ten years and creating a one-year open enrollment window. This expansion will allow more veterans to receive the high-quality healthcare they need and deserve.
In addition, the PACT Act allows greater care for veterans by enhancing transparency and accountability in the Department of Veterans Affairs services.
VA facilities have been holding nationwide Summer VetFest events this month to spread the word about the PACT Act, and veterans are signing up for their earned benefits at record rates. Veterans and survivors have submitted 1.65 million total claims this fiscal year – 16% more year-to-date than last year.
Some experts served in the Air Force in the first Gulf War, where they often went to Turkey and Iraq and were exposed to sand, dirt, and smoke from burn pits. After their military service, they developed cancer and were diagnosed with burn pit exposure. They applied for presumptive benefits for the symptoms experienced and were awarded honors in less than two weeks.
Presumptive Benefits for Veterans with Toxic Exposures
The PACT Act adds 23 new presumptive conditions that veterans diagnosed with can now receive health care and disability compensation without having to prove their condition is service-related. It also helps the VA better understand the long-term effects of toxic exposure by funding research and improving staff education.
Danielle Robinson, the widow of Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson, who died from lung cancer resulting from toxic exposure during his service, pushed for the bill to make it easier for veterans with similar ailments to get medical and financial help. Named for her husband, the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxic Exposures Act of 2022 is a PACT Act passing legislation.
Veterans who served at Balad Air Base near a burn pit that spewed toxic fumes are now able to get help because of the PACT Act. They completed his claim online in less than a half-hour. That’s how easy it is to use the new system.
Increased Resources for VA
The PACT Act provides resources to enhance VA claims processing, expand research, and support treatment for the increased numbers of veterans enrolled under the new presumptive conditions. Specifically, it enables VA to increase staff in the departments that handle disability compensation claims and medical claims and increases funding for veterans’ housing vouchers.
Some who served at Balad Air Base experienced symptoms of constrictive bronchiolitis but couldn’t prove the illness was caused by their time in Iraq because there wasn’t any science that established a connection. The PACT Act made its condition presumed service-connected, allowing to receive faster access to the benefits deserved.
The PACT Act also allows survivors to file what’s known as dependency indemnity compensation claims that the VA denied in the past, easing years of financial stress. To date, VA has already completed about 5,600 survivor claims under the PACT Act. Those cases were processed and approved in record time, compared to the previous average of about three years.
Enhanced Claims Processing
VA is screening veterans for toxic exposure, providing presumptive benefits, expanding facilities, and more. And the agency is delivering these benefits at its fastest rate ever.
For veterans who recently went through chemotherapy for breast cancer, the PACT Act means that they’ll be able to receive treatment without having to prove their condition was caused by service near burn pits. “If I would have had to do that, I’m sure it would have been a much longer process,” they say.