The Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act is a sweeping law enacted in 2022 that extends eligibility for medical benefits to an estimated 5 million U.S. Veterans. But some Veterans are missing out on the benefits they have rightfully earned due to confusion or misinformation about the provisions of the PACT Act. Here are six of the most common misconceptions to avoid.
Misconception #1: The PACT Act is only for those Veterans on the Burn Pit Registry.
The Act expands health care and benefits to many groups of Veterans who were not previously eligible. Eligibility includes Veterans who participated in a toxic exposure risk activity while serving on active duty, active duty training or inactive duty training. In addition to the estimated more than 3.5 million Veterans who were exposed to toxins generated by burn pits during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Act also benefits:
Vietnam Veterans. A major provision of the Act extends presumptive service connection to Vietnam Veterans who have been diagnosed with any of 17 illnesses, including diabetes, various cancers, Parkinson’s disease, peripheral neuropathy, and a type of heart disease. This means that for VA disability cases the VA must assume that Veterans who served in certain locations and during certain time periods were exposed to toxic chemicals like Agent Orange and other herbicides. These Veterans no longer have to provide proof of an in-service event, injury, or illness that led to their disabilities which removes some of the obstacles associated with filing a VA disability claim.
Certain Navy and Air Force Veterans. The PACT offers VA benefits to not only those Vietnam Veterans with “boots on the ground” but also to those “Brown water” sailors who served on inland waterways; “Blue water” Navy Veterans who served within the 12 nautical mile area offshore; and Air Force Veterans who flew in or worked on C-123 aircraft which sprayed Agent Orange during the Vietnam War era.
Vietnam-era Veterans exposed to herbicides in other deployments. The presumption of exposure to herbicides like Agent Orange is now extended to Veterans who served in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Guam, American Samoa, and Johnston Atoll.
Camp Lejeune Veterans and their families. The PACT Act now makes it possible for service members and their family members who were exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987 and later suffered an illness linked to the contamination to sue the government for damages.
Misconception #2: PACT Act benefits do not extend to survivors.
It is a common misconception that when a Veteran passes away their claims for disability benefits dies with them. This is not true. Accrued benefits may be available to the survivor of a service member who dies while their claim for disability benefits is pending. Survivors of Veterans who died on or after October 10, 2008, are allowed to take the place of the deceased VA claimant. If the claim is then approved, the survivor will be awarded the cash benefits due to the Veteran between the date they applied for disability compensation and the date the Veteran died. Sometimes, the lump sum of back payments can be substantial.
The biological children of both men and women who served in Vietnam between 1961 and 1975 and who have certain birth defects, such as spina bifida, may be eligible for VA compensation.
Surviving spouses, dependent children, and dependent parents of a Veteran who was exposed to toxic materials and died from a resulting disease may be eligible for a monthly payment called Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. This compensation is not based on income and is paid as a tax-free monthly benefit.
Misconception #3: Fear that your existing benefits will be lost if you apply for new benefits.
This is simply not true. If you already receive VA health care, benefits, or compensation for a service-connected impairment, your case will not be reevaluated just because you file for new benefits under the PACT Act.
If you believe you may be eligible for benefits under the ACT, you should apply as soon as possible. If you apply for benefits before August 10, 2023 (the one year anniversary of the signing of the Act), and your application is granted, you will receive benefits backdated to the date of the bill signing: August 10, 2022.
Misconception #4: Unemployability as a result of a service-connected disability doesn’t apply to me.
Maybe it does. It is estimated that about half of all Veterans don’t understand their disability benefits and therefore miss out on monthly income they have rightfully earned.
Total Disability Individual Unemployability—with the acronym TDIU—is part of the VA’s disability compensation program. If your disabilities prevent you from being able to get and keep a job, TDIU allows you to have your disability rating raised to 100 percent even though the rating on your service-connected disabilities do not equal 100 percent. Unemployability is the VA’s way of acknowledging that some Veterans with disability ratings below 100 are unable to work due to their impairments.
Here are some general guidelines to be eligible for a TDIU rating:
- You must be honorably discharged from the military.
- You must have performed active duty.
- The military service must have caused or worsened a physical or mental condition.
- Your service must have been in the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, National Guard, Coast Guard, or Reservists.
Misconception # 5: Retired Vietnam-era Veterans are not eligible for TDIU benefits.
Even if you are retired or about to be retired and you meet the qualification standards, it is worth applying for disability and TDIU.
Misconception # 6: You shouldn’t bother filing a claim because the VA is overwhelmed by the backlog of PACT Act cases.
While it’s true that as of January 1, 2023 the VA had received 213,000 PACT Act related claims for benefits, it is also true that the department has hired about 2,000 new claims processors and is using an automated system to process some claims. VA Secretary Denis McDonough says that as of April 2023 the VA had already processed nearly 40,000 claims, approving nearly 85% of them. The VA is prioritizing the claims of Veterans with cancer to make sure they get timely access to the care and benefits they need.
If you believe you are eligible for benefits under the PACT Act, we encourage you to file for the benefits you have rightfully earned. But before you file, get your free copy of our book Expanding Your VA Benefits: The Veteran’s Complete Guidebook for the PACT Act. You can get this comprehensive guide to your rights and benefits under the PACT Act through this link: cuddiganlaw.com/reports. The guidebook is free and we also can offer you a free personal evaluation of your disability case, just contact our VA disability attorneys at Cuddigan Law.