What is the PACT Act and how does it help veterans?

The PACT Act is a new 2022 law that expands VA disability benefits for veterans exposed to toxic substances, including from exposure to burn pits during the Gulf Wars and an expanded scope for Agent Orange presumptive exposure.

Here are a few of the things you’ll want to know about expanded coverage access to VA disability benefits provided by the PACT Act.

What are presumptive conditions for purposes of VA disability benefit claims?

Whenever a veteran applies for VA disability benefits, the VA will review the claim file to determine (1) whether the veteran has a current disability; (2) whether something happened in-service (injury, exposure, etc); and (3) whether there is a nexus or connection between the two. If this criteria is met, then the VA determines what the disability rating number is and its effective date. Sometimes establishing the connection element between your military service and your current disability is difficult, but “presumptions” can make it much easier.

With so-called “presumptive conditions,” the VA is acknowledging up front that if you served in certain geographical areas and timeframes and then develop certain cancers or other conditions, that there is a connection between the service and the conditions. This can dramatically simplify VA disability claims.

Over the course of time, new presumptive conditions are approved in law and implemented through the VA, and the PACT Act adds some new presumptions. Listed below are expansions in coverage for presumptions of Agent Orange exposure and connected conditions, as well as ones for radiation exposure, and burn pits.

Vietnam War/Agent Orange

The PACT Act expands the VA’s acknowledgment of effects of Agent Orange during Vietnam War by including a larger scope of military service area and adding additional presumptive Agent Orange medical conditions, to allow for service connection.

First, let’s talk about the geographical areas and timeframes of military service that are now presumptively connected to Agent Orange exposure. Before the PACT Act, if you served in Vietnam anytime between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975, including brief visits ashore or service aboard a ship that operated on the inland waterways of Vietnam, or in or near the Korean demilitarized zone anytime between April 1, 1968 and August 31, 1971, the VA presumed that you were exposed to Agent Orange.

With the passage of the PACT Act, 5 new locations have been added to that list of presumed exposure:

  • Any U.S. or Royal Thai military base in Thailand from January 9, 1962, through June 30, 1976 
  • Laos from December 1, 1965, through September 30, 1969
  • Cambodia at Mimot or Krek, Kampong Cham Province from April 16, 1969, through April 30, 1969
  • Guam or American Samoa or in the territorial waters off of Guam or American Samoa from January 9, 1962, through July 30, 1980
  • Johnston Atoll or on a ship that called at Johnston Atoll from January 1, 1972, through September 30, 1977

(Keep in mind that even without a presumptive exposure to Agent Orange, veterans are still able to argue and prove exposure. This is especially true for veterans who  served where herbicides were tested and stored outside of Vietnam, were crewmembers on C-123 planes flown after the Vietnam War, and veterans associated Department of Defense (DoD) projects to test, dispose of, or store herbicides in the U.S.)

The PACT Act also added another 2 Agent Orange presumptively connected conditions: High blood pressure (hypertension) and Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS).

Radiation exposure

The PACT Act also added a new, important acknowledgment of harmful radiation exposure. The following 3 response effort locations are now presumed by the VA to have exposed veterans to radiation: 

  • Cleanup of Enewetak Atoll, from January 1, 1977, through December 31, 1980
  • Cleanup of the Air Force B-52 bomber carrying nuclear weapons off the coast of Palomares, Spain, from 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 from January 21, 1968, to September 25, 1968

These 3 locations are added to the following already presumptive radiation exposure sites:

  • Participated in the occupation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan between Aug. 6, 1945, and July 1, 1946.
  • Were prisoners of war in Japan near Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.
  • Participated in atmospheric nuclear weapons tests conducted primarily in Nevada and the Pacific Ocean between 1945 and 1962.
    Read fact sheets on the tests from the Nuclear Test Personnel Review office.
  • Participated in underground nuclear weapons testing at:
    • Amchitka Island, Alaska before Jan. 1, 1974.
    • Nevada Test Site for at least 250 days from January 1, 1963, through December 31, 1992.
  • Service at one of the following gaseous diffusion plants for at least 250 days before Feb. 1, 1992: Paducah, Kentucky; Portsmouth, Ohio; or K25 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

The VA (rightly) assumes that a list of various cancers are presumptively connected to this radiation exposure:

  • Cancers of the bile ducts, bone, brain, breast, colon, esophagus, gall bladder, liver (primary site, but not if cirrhosis or hepatitis B is indicated), lung (including bronchiolo-alveolar cancer), pancreas, pharynx, ovary, salivary gland, small intestine, stomach, thyroid, urinary tract (kidney/renal, pelvis, urinary bladder, and urethra)
  • Leukemia (except chronic lymphocytic leukemia)
  • Lymphomas (except Hodgkin’s disease)
  • Multiple myeloma (cancer of plasma cells)

Gulf War/Post-9/11 Operations 

The PACT Act adds a list of presumptive exposure to burn pits and other toxins, and a lengthy new list of medical conditions that are now presumptively service-connected for Gulf War and post-9/11 veterans, including exposure to those burn pits and other toxic substances.

If your military service including time on or after September 11, 2001 in any of the following locations, the VA will presume exposure to burn pits/toxins: Afghanistan, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Uzbekistan, Yemen, or the airspace above any of these locations.

Similarly, if you served on or after August 2, 1990 in any of the following locations, the VA will also presume burn pit/toxin exposure: Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, The United Arab Emirates (UAE), or the airspace above any of these locations.

The following 12 cancers are now, according to the VA, presumptively connected to Gulf War/Post 9/11 conflicts: Brain cancer, Gastrointestinal cancer of any type, Glioblastoma, Head cancer of any type, Kidney cancer, Lymphatic cancer of any type, Lymphoma of any type, Melanoma, Neck cancer, Pancreatic cancer, Reproductive cancer of any type, and Respiratory (breathing-related) cancer of any type.

Additionally, the following other medical conditions are also presumptively service-connected: Asthma that was diagnosed after 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, and Sarcoidosis.

Should I pursue a claim for VA disability benefits?

If you are a military veteran with an other than dishonorable discharge and currently have a medical condition or disability that you believe was caused by, or aggravated by, your military service, you may file a claim for VA disability benefits.

If you have already had a claim denied for one of the types of conditions or areas of service now declared to presumptively be service-connected, you may want to appeal that claim decision (if it has been no more than a year since the decision), or refile your claim if it has been longer and note within your claim what your original filing date was. 

If the decision you receive from the VA appears to be a wrongful denial or an underrating in terms of the disability rating, you have the option to file various types of appeals which are often successful, especially if you retain legal assistance for your appeal.

Veterans Law Group helps thousands of veterans obtain millions of dollars in VA disability benefit back pay benefits every year. They may be able to help you with your appeal also. Click here for a free evaluation of your case.

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