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The PACT Act & You: How the PACT Act May Affect Your VA Disability Compensation Claim

President Biden signed the bipartisan Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act on August 10, 2022. The PACT Act is the most significant expansion of benefits for veterans affected by toxic exposure in over thirty years. But what does the PACT Act mean for your claim?

There are two main categories of people affected by the PACT Act. First, if you are a Gulf War Veteran who may have a disability caused by exposure to toxic chemicals during your service, the PACT Act may affect your claim. Second, if you are a veteran of the Vietnam era and may have a disability caused by exposure to Agent Orange, the PACT Act may affect your claim. While the PACT Act also addresses Camp LeJeune contamination cases, that will be subject of a separate blog.

CLAIM BASICS

It is important to remember that while the PACT Act expands disability benefits compensation coverage for veterans exposed to toxins, the basic elements of a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) compensation claim must still be met. To be eligible for VA disability benefits, three things must be true. First, you must have a current illness or injury. Second, you must have served on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training. Finally, one of the following things must be true: (a) you got sick or injured while in the military and can link your current disability to your in-service illness or injury, (b) you had an illness or injury prior to serving in the military and serving in the military made it worse, or (c) you have an illness or injury related to service that did not appear until after your service ended. If the first two elements are true and either (a), (b), or (c) is true, you may be eligible for disability compensation from VA.

How do I know If I’m eligible for VA disability benefits?
  1. Do you have a current injury or illness? If yes, proceed to 2. If no, VA requires there to be a current injury or illness to receive compensation.
  2. Did you serve on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty for training? If yes, proceed to 3. If no, VA awards disability benefits to those who served on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty for training.
  3. Is one of the following things true?
    • You had an illness or injury while serving and you can link it to your illness or injury for which you want to claim benefits.
    • You had an illness or injury before serving and serving made it worse.
    • You have an injury or illness related to your service that did not appear until after the end of your service.

If you answered yes to all these questions, you may be eligible for VA disability benefits. The PACT Act does NOT affect these three requirements.

THE PACT ACT & GULF WAR VETERANS

The PACT Act adds new presumptive conditions related to burn pit exposure and new locations for presumptive exposure to burn pits. The following illnesses are the presumptive conditions related to burn pit exposure. If you have one of the following conditions and were exposed to toxins from burn pits, you will not have to prove a connection between your condition and your exposure to toxins.

Cancers
  • Brain cancer
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) cancers
  • Glioblastoma
  • Head cancers
  • Kidney cancer
  • Lymphatic cancers
  • Lymphomas
  • Melanoma
  • Neck cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Reproductive cancers
  • Respiratory (breathing) cancers

Other Illnesses

  • Asthma diagnosed post-service
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Chronic rhinitis
  • Chronic sinusitis
  • Constrictive bronchiolitis or obliterative bronchiolitis
  • Emphysema
  • Granulomatous disease
  • Interstitial lung disease (ILD)
  • Pleuritis Pulmonary fibrosis Sarcoidosis

There are certain locations for which burn pit and toxin exposure is presumed. If you served at any of the locations listed below or in the airspace above any of these locations, you have the presumption of exposure to burn pit toxins.

On or after August 2, 1990:

• Bahrain

• Iraq

• Kuwait

• Oman

• Qatar

• Saudi Arabia

• Somalia

• The United Arab Emirate (UAE)

On or after September 11, 2001:

• Afghanistan

• Djibouti

• Egypt

• Jordan

• Lebanon

• Syria

• Uzbekistan

• Yemen

If you have been diagnosed with one of the above-mentioned conditions and served in one of the above-mentioned locations, you are eligible to apply for VA disability benefits. If you have been diagnosed with one of the above conditions but did not serve in the above areas in the specified period, you may still be eligible for benefits, but you will need to prove exposure to toxins. If you served in one of the above locations in the specified period and have a condition not mentioned above, you may still be eligible for benefits, but you will need to prove that exposure to toxins as likely as not caused your condition.

THE PACT ACT & VIETNAM VETERANS

The PACT Act adds two new presumptive conditions for Agent Orange: high blood pressure (hypertension) and monoclonal gammopathy or undetermined significance (MGUS). If you developed one of these conditions after your service during the Vietnam era in one of the presumptive locations, you may be eligible to receive VA disability benefits. A complete list of presumptive Agent Orange conditions besides the two added by the PACT Act can be found here.

The PACT Act has added five presumptive locations for exposure to Agent Orange. If you served in one of these locations during the specified dates, and have a condition presumptively linked to Agent Orange exposure, you may be eligible for VA disability benefits. A complete list of presumptive Agent Orange locations prior to PACT Act passage can be found here.

Location

 

Date Range
Any U.S. or Royal Thai military base in Thailand

 

January 9, 1962, through June 30, 1976
Laos December 1, 1965, through September 30, 1969

 

Cambodia at Mimot or Krek, Kampong Cham Province

 

April 16, 1969, through April 30, 1969
Guam or America Samoa or in the territorial waters off Guam or American Samoa

 

January 9, 1962, through July 30, 1980
Johnston Atoll or on a ship that called at Johnston Atoll

 

 

January 1, 1972, through September 30, 1977

 

If you have a disease not listed as a presumptive disease or served in a non-presumptive location and believe your current illness is related to Agent Orange exposure, you will need to prove that your illness is related to Agent Orange exposure.

The PACT Act also adds three presumptive locations for radiation exposure for Vietnam era veterans. If you served in any of the locations below during the specified time period, VA will assume that you were exposed to radiation.

Location

 

Date Range
Cleanup of Enewetak Atoll

 

January 1, 1977, through December 31, 1980

 

Cleanup of the air force B-52 bomber carrying nuclear weapons off the coast of Palomares, Spain

 

January 17, 1966, through March 31, 1967

 

Response to the fire onboard an Air Force B-52 bomber carrying nuclear weapons near Thule Air Force Base in Greenland

 

January 21, 1968, through September 25, 1968

 WHAT SHOULD YOU DO NEXT?

If you believe you are eligible for VA disability compensation based on the information above and have not filed for a presumptive condition, you should do so now. Information on filing a disability compensation claim with VA can be found here.

If you have a pending claim, VA will consider the PACT Act when reviewing your claim.

If you previously filed a claim and were denied by VA, our team of veteran’s benefits attorneys and paralegals is eager to help you maximize the benefits you deserve. For a free case evaluation, please submit this form or call us toll free at 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 877-838-1010. The Veterans Benefit Group of Goodman Allen Donnelly serves veterans and families living in every state and territory in the country, and throughout the world.

If you are a surviving family member of a veteran who would have been affected by the PACT Act, you may be entitled to Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, an accrued benefits payment, or a survivor’s pension. Information about these programs can be found at va.gov. If you have questions about your eligibility for any of these programs, one of our experienced veteran’s benefits attorneys or paralegals would be happy to help. Please submit this form or call us toll free at 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 877-838-1010 for a free case evaluation.

From all of us at the Veterans Benefit Group of Goodman Allen Donnelly, we look forward to working with you.