Feds urge veterans, survivors to sign up for PACT Act benefits
The deadline to apply for a year of backdated benefits is in early August.
Military veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals and burn pits during their service could be eligible for new benefits under the federal PACT Act. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says veterans and their survivors can take full advantage of the program by signing up before Aug. 8.
The bipartisan legislation was signed into law last August and adds more than 250 qualifying health conditions. Morning Edition Host Phil Liles recently spoke to Terrence Hayes, the agency’s national press secretary, about who is eligible and what they should do to get in line.
VPM: The PACT Act is expanding VA health benefits, but what exposures are covered?
Terrence Hayes: Yeah, thanks for asking that question. You know, if you visit our website at va.gov/PACT, there's over 250 new conditions related to the PACT Act. That's important.
Because if a veteran of the Vietnam War era, the Gulf War era or the post-9/11 era like myself has any of those conditions, they're eligible for benefits today. And it's critical that they stop everything they're doing and either give us a call, or visit their local veterans service organization or service officer, or their local VFW, DAV, American Legion to provide any assistance they need to navigate that claims process.
How are the veterans’ survivors compensated in all this? Has anything changed there?
Yeah, the unique aspect of the PACT Act is that it's afforded us at VA the opportunity to provide benefits to survivors of veterans who may have passed away because of any of those conditions. So to any survivor out there whose veteran was impacted by any of these conditions because of their service, it's important that you give us a call, so we can get the benefits in your hands as well.
This is a full court press. And this is one of our highest priorities right now.
How long does it normally take after filing for a response?
Each case is different. There's been opportunities where folks have gone to local events run across the country, and they've been granted benefits onsite. There's been some folks who, unfortunately, have suffered some terminal illnesses because of the toxic substances they've come in contact [with] and they moved to the front of the line. They've received benefits within weeks.
Don't be deterred by the length of time. Go ahead and raise your hand. Apply for your benefits. Get in line. And what's ultimately going to happen is those benefits will be backdated to when you initially applied or will be backdated, if you do it before or on Aug. 9, to when President Biden signed the bill into law. This is a full court press. And this is one of our highest priorities right now to ensure that we're able to deliver on his promise to the veterans and survivors who have served this country so well.
What if someone is denied?
To any veteran who has been denied in the past, prior to the PACT Act, we're asking you to please give VA another shot. This new legislation may afford us the opportunity to get to that “yes.” As a matter of fact, it also allows us to take the burden of proof out of the veterans’ hands.
If there's a Vietnam veteran right now listening to this program who may have filed for hypertension in the past and was denied, well guess what? Hypertension is now one of those new presumptive conditions as part of the PACT Act. That means, basically, that we automatically assume your hypertension is linked to your service.
No longer is the burden of proof in the hands of the veteran. that's the exciting part about this: Now if you have that diagnosis, and you have that proof that shows you served in Vietnam, it's a slam dunk.
How to apply for PACT Act benefits
- File for VA disability using this form. Evidence to back up the claim can include, but is not limited to:
- VA medical records and hospital records that relate to the condition, or that show your disability has gotten worse
- Private medical records and hospital reports that relate to the condition, or show your disability has gotten worse
- Supporting statements from family members, friends, co-workers, clergy, or law enforcement officials with knowledge about how and/or when your disability happened, or how it has gotten worse
- Once you apply, the VA will review your claim in the order that it is received. Depending on the amount of injuries or disabilities claimed determines how long the claim will be processed, as well as how long it takes the VA to gather evidence needed in support of the claim.
- From there, the VA will mail you a decision once it has processed the claim.
- If your initial claim was rejected, you have the option to file a supplemental claim.