PACT Act Paves Way for Warriors to Get Cancer Care
|Table of Contents|
|Fast Action After PACT Act|
|Encouraging Veterans to Get Checked|
|Taking the First Step|
Some of the wounds Army veteran Dan Nevins suffered from his time in combat are immediately apparent. He lost both legs below the knee after a roadside bomb detonated under his vehicle in 2004 in Iraq.
Not surprisingly, Dan also dealt with the invisible wounds of war like traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A huge part of Dan’s recovery from both his visible and invisible injuries was getting involved in adaptive sports through Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP). Being physically healthy was a priority for Dan and it helped him improve his mental health as well. Eventually, he became a yoga instructor and continued living a healthy life.
So, when Dan was diagnosed with colon cancer in late 2021, it came as quite a shock. In addition, toxic exposure wasn’t really on his radar.
“We were in a terrible environment,” Dan said. “We drove past burn pits every day, but I didn’t know what that meant.”
Fast Action After PACT Act
When Dan reached out to the Benefits Services team at WWP after getting his cancer diagnosis, he learned more about toxic exposure and the PACT Act. WWP fought for years to get the life-changing legislation passed because it expands care and benefits to veterans exposed to toxic substances during their military service.
After years of hard work, the PACT Act was finally made law on Aug. 10, 2022. It entitles veterans across the nation with certain presumptive conditions to benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). It also guarantees access to VA health care for all veterans who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations where burn pits are known to have been used – even if they aren’t currently sick or experiencing any symptoms.
Almost immediately after the passage of the PACT Act, Dan got a call from a VA representative asking to review his claim.
“I thought I was being scammed,” Dan said. “I literally just hung up. Then two weeks later, I got a note in the mail from the VA representative saying they’re doing a records review. I was blown away.”
The PACT Act legislation decreased the burden on veterans to show proof their injuries or illnesses are service-connected – a requirement for VA benefits – and opened the door for more veterans to access the health care and benefits they’ve earned through their service. It’s been deemed the largest health care and benefits expansion in VA history.
Encouraging Veterans to Get Checked
It’s important for combat veterans to take advantage of the PACT Act and to recognize the importance of early detection and recommended checkups.
Like many veterans, Dan didn’t think about cancer or the toxins he was exposed to during his time overseas, until he was diagnosed. And because of the nature of many of the presumptive conditions, some effects of toxic exposure may not show up for years.
Dan went to the emergency room with stomach pains in 2021, more than 15 years after he got out of the service. Scans showed some issues in his intestines and other organs, but a colonoscopy verified the cancer diagnosis. He had surgery to remove the cancer and spent 30 days undergoing chemotherapy. Dan is still dealing with lingering issues, but as of now, he is cancer free. He remains cautious and more acutely aware of the disastrous effects of toxic exposure.
“[These veterans] volunteered to go fight, but they didn't volunteer to get exposed to all these nasty things that are killing them slowly,” Dan said. “There are people who have been suffering and didn't fit into the [VA] system, but now they do.”
“I think it is really important, too, outside of VA compensation, that [the PACT Act] may make some veterans say, ‘I was in Iraq or Afghanistan, and I know I was exposed to all kinds of toxins, so maybe I should go get a colonoscopy; maybe I should get a chest X-ray.’ It’s an opportunity to catch something before it becomes bigger.”
Taking the First Step
The WWP Benefits Services team is available to help warriors and family support members navigate the process of filing for benefits under the PACT Act and help them understand how the legislation will affect the process and their eligibility.
“The first step is to contact a VA-accredited representative to help guide them through the process of getting the benefits that are now afforded by the PACT Act,” said WWP Veterans Benefits Training Specialist Daniel Fletcher.
There are also deadlines veterans who qualify should be aware of when it comes to filing for benefits connected to the PACT Act. First, veterans with a qualifying medical diagnosis should file for VA disability compensation prior to Aug. 9, 2022, if they want to possibly receive retroactive disability compensation to Aug. 10, 2022, when the bill was signed into law.
Also, post-9/11 combat veterans who were discharged over 10 years ago and are not already enrolled in VA health care have a deadline of Oct. 1, 2023, to enroll. If they miss this “open enrollment period,” they will be subject to a 10-year phase-in process before their health care eligibility becomes permanent. WWP is strongly encouraging them to take advantage of the open enrollment now so the care will be there when they need it.
“What the bill does is open up the door for entitlement to health care, even if they don't yet have a service-connected condition,” said Tim Velasquez, WWP veterans benefits training specialist. “Those new possibilities for health care under this bill are incredible as far as the opportunities they open to veterans who may not have had that door open to them before.”
Contact: — Paris Moulden, Public Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, 904.570.7910
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