Q&A: PACT Act
With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley
Q: What is the PACT Act?
A: In August, Congress passed the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act that provides eligibility for medical benefits to 3.5 million veterans sickened by toxin exposure during their military service in the Gulf War, post-9/11 and Vietnam War eras. This bipartisan legislation is overdue. And I’m glad to help get it across the finish line for Iowa veterans and their loved ones who have been impacted by health problems connected to the burn pits and other toxins, including Agent Orange. On their behalf, I was proud to support this long-awaited law every step of the way. The PACT Act adds more than 20 presumptive conditions for exposure to burn pits and other toxic exposures for Gulf War and post-9/11 era veterans. Presumptive is the term the VA uses for certain conditions that automatically presumes a veteran’s service caused the health condition in question. For these conditions, veterans don’t have to prove their military service caused the illness for which they are seeking disability or health benefits.
Under the new law, veterans who served on active duty on or after Aug. 2, 1990 in Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, or the United Arab Emirates, as well as service members who served on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001 in Afghanistan, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Uzbekistan, or Yemen are considered to have had exposure to burn pits or other toxins – a presumption of exposure – and may apply for VA benefits. Similarly, the presumptive medical conditions include certain cancers, lung diseases and other respiratory conditions. Learn more here.
The PACT Act also includes important updates for Vietnam era veterans. Specifically, two new presumptive conditions and additional Agent Orange and radiation presumptive locations are now covered. Veterans who may have previously been denied benefits for these new presumptive conditions may make a supplemental claim, a Vietnam veteran can refile a claim for hypertension, for example.
Note the PACT Act also extended and expanded eligibility to enroll in VA health care for conditions related to active-duty service for post-9/11 combat veterans for up to 10 years after a veteran’s most recent discharge.
The effective date for certain presumptive conditions will take effect immediately, others will be phased in starting in 2023. However, veterans may apply now. Benefits may be backdated to the date of the PACT Act’s enactment, Aug. 10, 2022. Veterans may learn more about eligibility and applying for benefits at https://www.va.gov/resources/the-pact-act-and-your-va-benefits or call (800) 698-2411.
Iowans also have contacted my office about benefits for service members exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. The PACT Act allows veterans who served at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987 to bring action in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina against the Department of Defense.
Q: What led to the PACT Act’s passage?
A: Like many bills that move through Congress, grassroots pressure and bipartisanship help break gridlock. One month after the PACT Act was enacted, America observed the 21stanniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It’s a moment in our history we will never forget. Tens of thousands of Americans enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces to defend freedom and our way of life, putting their lives on the line in service to our country. U.S. troops were exposed to toxic contaminants when the U.S. military burned plastic, rubber, chemicals and other waste. After returning from deployments, Gulf War and post-9/11 veterans reported serious illnesses and difficulty breathing. With passage of the PACT Act, the federal government is keeping its promise to our veterans.
Throughout my service in the U.S. Senate, I’ve made it a priority to listen to veterans and advocate on their behalf at the policymaking table and hold the federal bureaucracy accountable. No matter the issue, from working to fix patient wait times at the VA, to improving implementation of community care services, cutting red tape for benefits and military service medals, advocating for service members with brain injury and PTSD, boosting resources for providers and mental health services, strengthening suicide prevention, and providing help for family members who take care of injured veterans, I will continue working as hard as ever to ensure the federal government keeps its promises to the men and women who put their lives on the line in service to our country.