(BPT) - Are you or a loved one a post-9/11 combat veteran? Were you exposed to burn pits or other toxins while in service? If so, there's important information you should know regarding your veterans' health care and disability benefits, including two fast-approaching deadlines.
Veterans who were exposed to burn pits or other toxic substances may experience various health issues. Veterans who think their diagnosed medical conditions are connected to toxic exposure during service should file a claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Veterans not currently experiencing any health problems may have some in the future. Even if they feel fine, eligible veterans should get a toxic exposure screening. Toxic exposure screenings are available at VA health facilities across the country.
Thankfully, new legislation called the PACT Act will help veterans get the treatment and benefits they deserve.
Army veteran Andrew Myatt, who deployed to Iraq in 2004-05, said, 'On paper, I did everything I was supposed to. I don't drink soda or eat fast food. I have a very healthy lifestyle and diet. And yet, I've come down with two cancers in the last three years.'
What is the PACT Act?
The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act became law on Aug. 10, 2022. This bill addresses one of the most urgent issues for post-9/11 veterans - health problems related to exposure to burn pits and other toxic substances.
The PACT Act grants permanent VA health care eligibility to 3.5 million post-9/11 veterans who may have been exposed to toxic substances during service. The Act adds more than 20 new presumptive service-connected illnesses related to exposure to burn pits and other toxic substances for veterans who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and surrounding areas.
Veterans nonprofit Wounded Warrior Project strongly advocated for this bill and is working hard to spread the word about expanded access to health care and disability benefits for impacted veterans.
Act now to maximize benefits
Time is running out for exposed veterans to maximize these benefits. Veterans must file a claim with the VA by Aug. 9, 2023, to be eligible for retroactive disability compensation dated back to Aug. 10, 2022 (when the bill was signed into law), if they were diagnosed with a qualifying condition at that time.
Post-9/11 combat veterans discharged over 10 years ago and not enrolled in VA health care have a deadline of Oct. 1, 2023, to take advantage of the open enrollment period. If they miss it, they could be subject to a phased-in enrollment period, based on their discharge from service.
Get started today at VA.gov/PACT.
'Even if they aren't sick now, I would urge all post-9/11 veterans to register for VA health care,' said WWP CEO Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Mike Linnington. 'For combat veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances while serving our nation, the PACT Act helps alleviate the burden of proof needed to make a service connection for VA benefits. Veterans who qualify under the PACT Act and are diagnosed with cancer have priority when it comes to VA health care and other benefits.'
Veterans are strongly advised to work with an accredited VA representative to advocate for their needs. One option is Wounded Warrior Project, which has accredited representatives that work with the VA to advocate for veterans.