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PACT Act Paves Way for Warriors to Get Cancer Care

Warrior Dan Nevins teaches yoga and lives a healthy lifestyle, but a cancer diagnosis made him aware of the lifelong effects toxic exposure can have on a veteran.
Warrior Dan Nevins teaches yoga and lives a healthy lifestyle, but a cancer diagnosis made him aware of the lifelong effects toxic exposure can have on a veteran.
Wounded Warrior Project encourages veterans exposed to burn pits, other toxins to enroll in VA health care

Some of the wounds Army veteran Dan Nevins suffered from his time in combat are immediately apparent. He lost his leg after a roadside bomb detonated under his vehicle in 2004 in Iraq, and eventually had to have his other leg amputated.

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.  Dan was unaware of the invisible health effects as a result of his exposure to toxic substances while serving in the military.  

“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 Vets to get Checked

It’s so 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.”

The PACT Act: Answering Your Questions

WWP Benefits Services can help warriors navigate their VA health care and benefit claims.
WWP Benefits Services can help warriors navigate their VA health care and benefit claims.

With the passage of the PACT Act comes a lot of questions – and often confusion – for many veterans and family members. WWP Veterans Benefits Training Specialists Timothy Velasquez and Daniel Fletcher answer some common questions and clear up some misconceptions regarding the PACT Act and VA benefits.

  1. Question: Do you have to be signed up with the burn pit registry to qualify for benefits under the PACT Act?

Daniel: No. The burn pit registry is a separate program designed for research purposes to determine how toxic exposure affected people but it doesn't have anything to do with the PACT Act claims process, nor is it required to access the care or benefits entitled under the PACT Act.

  1. Question: Will filing a claim under the PACT Act negatively affect a veteran already receiving disability benefits?

Timothy: Absolutely not, but it is a common question. The VA will only review the issues that are claimed and has no intention of digging into other entitlements or reducing benefits that are unrelated to the PACT Act claims, even veterans already rated 100%. We don't want any veteran out there to hesitate to file for potential entitlements that they have as a result of the PACT Act out of fear in their VA disability status changing.

  1. Question: If a qualified veteran is already rated 100% total and permanent for other injuries or illnesses, what are the main benefits to filing a claim under the PACT Act?

Daniel: It depends on the rating they would receive (for the new claims). There’s no guarantee, but it could mean additional entitlements such as special monthly compensation. But one of the biggest reasons to file is if you’re diagnosed with a [presumptive] condition, now or in the future, that could eventually lead to death, then you’ll be able to get it connected to your service, so that your spouse and/or children could receive dependency and indemnity compensation, or monthly payments for survivors. Service connection is the main pathway to establishing eligibility for VA health care.

  1. Question: If a veteran is not already enrolled in VA health care, what is the first step they should take to establish that relationship with VA?

Timothy: One of the greatest things about the PACT Act is that it opens the door for health care eligibility. If a veteran was not previously eligible for VA health care, it's possible they may now qualify under one of many new criteria established under the PACT Act, such as receipt of a specific campaign medal. They can reach out and work with any accredited veterans service organizations to help them with the application, or they can apply in person at any VA medical facility or online as well. Because of the PACT Act, it may be the first time they will be eligible for service connection of a disability, or maybe they're still not necessarily eligible for service connection for VA compensation, but they may now be eligible for health care strictly because of one of their deployments. Any accredited veterans service organization can help them enroll.

  1. Question: What are the timelines or guidelines for filing for benefits and/or establishing VA health care eligibility under the PACT Act?

Daniel: There will never be an end date for filing a claim for presumptive service connection under the PACT Act. When a new law creates a new entitlement or changes eligibility, there is a one-year period that allows a veteran to file a claim under the new law and possibly receive retroactive payments back to the date the bill was signed into law, August 10, 2022, in the case of the PACT Act. If a veteran is diagnosed with one of the presumptive conditions and has qualifying service, it is best to file the claim now, but at least before August 9, 2023. If the claim is filed after that date, the effective date of the claim will most likely be the date VA received the claim and no retroactive payments would be authorized.

As far as health care eligibility, there's a 1-year open enrollment period for service members who were discharged more than 10 years ago and that lasts only through Oct. 1, 2023. So, if you were discharged more than 10 years ago, and are now eligible for VA health care under the PACT Act you have until October to enroll. If you don't do that, you have to wait until a specified phase based on the date of your discharge from service, which could be until 2032. I would recommend all Veterans visit VA’s PACT Act website for more information. Not only for VA health care eligibility, but the site also answers many questions about the PACT Act and benefits they may be eligible for.

  1. Question: Is priority given for those diagnosed with cancer or a terminal illness?

Daniel: In December 2022, VA announced and started expediting claims for terminally ill veterans and for PACT Act related cancers to make sure veterans receive timely access to the care and benefits they need.

  1. Question: What if someone is diagnosed with one of the presumptive cancers but they’re outside their eligibility window?

Timothy: In the case of qualifying cancers, the first thing we’d suggest they do is work with an accredited veterans service organization like WWP to get their claim in with a request for VA to prioritize the claim. Note that any veteran of any era, even service members still on active duty, can apply for and be eligible for VA health care while a claim is pending. We want qualifying veterans to take advantage of this opportunity. Even if you're unsure, work with an accredited representative and let them help you apply for the benefits you’ve earned.

  1. Question: If you’re a veteran who meets the service dates and locations criteria, but don’t have any symptoms or a diagnosis of the presumptive conditions, do you still qualify for VA disability compensation under the Pact Act?

Daniel: You have to have a diagnosis of one of the presumptive conditions. You can't file a claim under the PACT Act because you served in areas of toxic exposure. You have to have one of the conditions which is affecting you in order to receive benefits for it. If a veteran has qualifying service, meaning they served in one of the specified locations during the specified timeframes, but does not have a diagnosis of one the newly recognized conditions, there is no need to file a claim at this time. The veteran should be aware that they were most likely exposed to toxic substances and be aware of the conditions currently associated with toxic exposure and should enroll in VA health care if they haven’t yet done so.

  1. Question: Should a veteran get assistance with filing a benefits claim under the PACT Act, and how do they know where to find it?

Timothy: One misconception is that veterans need to pay somebody to assist them with their benefits. They do not. Rather, they should seek out a VA-accredited representative who will help them free of charge simply because of the sacrifices they made through their military service.

  1. Question: What are some things veterans can do to help other veterans and their family members when it comes to toxic exposure?

Timothy: The Veterans Health Administration is screening veterans for potential toxic exposures and enrolling many of them in the burn pit registry. By taking part in this research based upon their personal experiences, there's a lot of opportunity for veterans to contribute to the greater cause and what may come in the future as a result of this monumental legislation.

Daniel: I would add that it’s a perfect way to take care of yourself and take care of others by enrolling in VA health care and completing those registries. This will ensure that it’s well-known what type of ailments these exposures are causing for veterans, so other veterans know what to watch out for and so that VA can make informed decisions about any conditions to add to the list of presumptive conditions in the future.

Find out how WWP’s Benefits Services Can Help

What is the PACT Act?
The SFC Heath Robinson Honoring our PACT Act guarantees care and benefits for veterans who suffer the ill effects of their exposure to burn pits and other toxins while serving in the U.S. military. The PACT Act:
  • Expands and extends eligibility for VA health care for veterans exposed to toxins, including post-9/11 combat veterans.
  • Adds 20-plus more presumptive conditions for burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic exposures.
  • Adds more presumptive-exposure locations for Agent Orange and radiation.
  • Requires VA to provide a toxic exposure screening to every Veteran enrolled in VA health care.
  • Helps VA improve research, staff education, and treatment related to toxic exposures.
  • For more information about dates and locations of eligible service, click here.

Contact: — Paris Moulden, Public Relations,, 904.570.7910

About Wounded Warrior Project

Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.


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