Expanded Benefits for Veterans Exposed to Toxic MaterialsVeterans suffering from health issues caused by exposure to toxic materials will get improved VA benefits and health care under the provisions of the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act of 2022. The law, passed both houses of Congress with solid bi-partisan support, will  “provide…historic relief to all generations of toxic-exposed veterans” including those service members exposed to burn pits, contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, and Agent Orange in Thailand and other locations according to law’s co-sponsors Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Jerry Moran (R-KS). In a statement, President Joe Biden said, "This legislation makes good on our sacred obligation to care for veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors."

What Expanded Benefits for Veterans Exposed to Toxic Materials Means Under this Bill:

This law:

  • Increases VA health care eligibility to post-9/11 combat veterans, including the estimated more than 3.5 million veterans who were exposed to toxins generated by burn pits.
  • Adds an additional 23 toxic exposure-related conditions including hypertension to the VA’s list of presumptive conditions. (This means that if you are veteran who served during the Gulf War and have been diagnosed with one or more of these medical conditions, you don’t need the usual amount of evidence to file a disability claim and can more easily secure VA disability compensation.)
  • Expands claims related to Agent Orange exposure to include Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Guam, American Samoa, and Johnston Atoll. These locations are in addition to Vietnam where the VA will presume Agent Orange exposure.
  • Makes it possible for service members exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejuene to sue the government for damages.
  • Provides every veteran a toxic exposure screening at VA medical appointments. 
  • Increases federal research on toxic exposure.
  • Makes available more VA resources and training for toxic-exposed veterans.
  • Strengthens the VA’s workforce and invest in 31 new VA health care facilities.
  • Boost sthe VA’s claims processing capacity.
  • Creates a framework for the establishment of future presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposure.

23 Additional Presumptive Toxic Exposure-Related Conditions Added Under the PACT Act

The presumptive condition list includes:

  • Asthma diagnosed after service
  • Brain cancer
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Chronic rhinitis
  • Chronic sinusitis
  • Constrictive bronchiolitis or obliterative bronchiolitis
  • COPD
  • Emphysema
  • Gastrointestinal cancer (of any type)
  • Glioblastoma
  • Granulomatous disease
  • Head cancer (of any type)
  • Interstitial lung disease
  • Kidney cancer
  • Lymphomatic cancer (of any type)
  • Melanoma
  • Neck cancer (of any type)
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Pleuritis
  • Pulmonary fibrosis
  • Reproductive cancer (of any type)
  • Respiratory cancer (of any type)
  • Sarcoidosis

Veterans Covered By Expanded Benefits for Burn Pit Exposure

Since September 11, 2001, up to 3.5 million deployed service members have potentially encountered toxic exposures from burn pits. Until almost 2010, the U.S. military kept burn pits on bases for the disposal of chemicals, plastics, medical waste and other substances that were burned with jet fuel, creating toxic smoke.

Here is who is covered under this new legislation:

A veteran who, on or after August 2, 1990, performed active military, naval, or air service while assigned to these countries (including the airspace above them):

  • Bahrain
  • Iraq
  • Kuwait
  • Oman
  • Qatar
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Somalia
  • United Arab Emirates

A veteran who, on or after September 11, 2001, performed active military, naval, or air service while assigned to these countries (including the airspace above them):

  • Afghanistan
  • Djibouti
  • Egypt
  • Jordan
  • Lebanon
  • Syria

(For more on burn pits watch this video: What Are Burn Pits? And How Did They Affect Our Military Service Members?)

Expanded Presumptions for Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange and Other Herbicides

Veterans who served with active military, naval, or air service in the Republic of Vietnam from January 9, 1962 to May 7, 1975, have been granted a presumption of service connection which 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. It means 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.

The PACT Act of 2022 extends the presumption of herbicide exposure to veterans who had active military, naval or air service to these locations during these specified dates:

  • Thailand, at any US or Thai base from January 9, 1962 to June 30 1976, without regard to the Veteran’s MOS or where on base they were located;
  • Laos from December 1, 1965 to September 30, 1969;
  • Cambodia, specifically at Mimot or Krek, Kampong Cham Province from April 16, 1969 to April 30, 1969;
  • Guam or American Samoa or in the territorial waters thereof from January 9, 1962 to July 30, 1980;
  • Johnson Atoll or a ship that called at Johnston Atoll from January 1, 1972 to September 30, 1977.

(For a comprehensive examination of herbicides and VA disability benefits download our free booklet: Exposed to Agent Orange? How Vietnam Era Veterans Can Still Win VA Compensation.)

Veterans and Their Families Exposed to Contaminated Water at Camp Lejeune Can Sue the Government

Camp Lejeune in North Carolina is the second largest Marine Corps base in the U.S. Since 1941 it has been home for hundreds of thousands of soldiers and their families. Between 1953 and 1987, the water at Camp Lejeune was contaminated by dangerous chemicals, including solvents used at a dry-cleaning company nearby, military cleaning equipment, and leaks from underground fuel storage tanks. The concentration levels for these chemicals were found to be as much as 34 hundred times higher than allowed by safety standards. During that time, it’s believed that nearly one million military members and their families living at the camp were exposed to the polluted water—bathing in it and drinking it for extended periods of time. Later, countless residents developed serious medical conditions, including cancer.

Included in the PACT Act of 2022 is the Camp Lejeune Justice Act, which allows anyone who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune to sue the government for damages if they were stationed at the camp for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987, and later suffered an illness linked to the contamination. (This is in addition to eligibility for VA disability benefits if you suffer an illness caused by exposure to the camp’s contaminated water during this time period.)

VA Disability Attorneys in Your Corner

If you were exposed to toxic materials during your time in the service and are coping with health issues, you deserve the disability compensation you have earned. You don’t have to take on the VA bureaucracy on your own. At Cuddigan Law you have team of professionals in your corner who know the system and will fight for your rights. Contact our VA disability attorneys by calling 402.933.5405 or emailing [email protected] for a free evaluation of your case.

Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska