The PACT Act and VA Benefits: Answering Your Questions
Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) worked extensively to see the SFC Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act become law. The goal was reached on Aug. 10, 2022, helping improve the lives of our country’s veterans. The legislation guarantees care and benefits for veterans who suffer the ill effects of their exposure to burn pits and other toxins while serving America.
However, 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.
- 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.
- 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 of their VA disability status changing.
- Question: If a qualified veteran is already rated 100% total and permanent for other injuries or illnesses, what are the main benefits of 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.
- 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.
- 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, Aug. 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 Aug. 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 one-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 Oct. 1, 2023, 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.
- Question: Is priority given to 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.
- 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 to 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.
- Question: If you’re a veteran who meets the service dates and locations criteria, but doesn’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 of 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.
- Question: Should a veteran get assistance with filing benefits claims 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.
- 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 on 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.
Contact: — Paris Moulden, Public Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, 904.570.7910
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