Las Vegas Review-Journal

New law expands veterans health care, but some may be unaware


The good news for American veterans is that when the PACT Act became law last year, they became approved for medical care related to illnesses related to toxic substances from burn pits and other sources.

The bad news is that some may not know they are eligible for health care that was previously denied. Indeed, under the new law, certain illnesses are now presumed to be covered. That’s an about-face from previous years.

Some veterans may have been turned down for such care before last Aug. 10, when Biden signed the bill. But with this measure’s bipartisan approval, the world of veterans health care has changed for the better. Now it’s essential to be sure the service men and women who bear the scars of chemical poisoning know about it.

Burn pits are where troops set fire to just about anything that would burn, including fuel, furniture, metals and plastics. More than 3 million veterans have been exposed to the often dangerous fumes from those pits since the 1991 Gulf War, according to the government. The consequenc­e has been conditions that range from allergylik­e symptoms to upper respirator­y illnesses and cancer.

President Joe Biden knows about that. “Toxic smoke, thick with poisons, spreading through the air and into the lungs of our troops,” he said as he signed the legislatio­n. “When they came home, many of the fittest and best warriors that we sent to war were not the same. Headaches, numbness, dizziness, cancer. My son, Beau, was one of them.”

Beau Biden, former attorney general of Maryland, was an Iraq War veteran who died of brain cancer in 2015. The president believes exposure to burn pits was the cause.

Already, more than 213,000 claims for benefits have been submitted under the new law. Additional­ly, more than 959,000 veterans have received new VA toxic exposure screenings, the department said, with nearly 40% reporting an exposure concern. That’s an alarming rate and good reason for veterans with even a hint of worry to make use of these valuable new services.

The PACT Act — that’s Promise to Address Comprehens­ive Toxics — became law in part because Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., wouldn’t let it go until it passed. It covers veterans from as far back as the Vietnam War and includes benefits for veterans exposed not just to burn pits, but Agent Orange and other toxic substances. It also expands the list of health conditions that the Department of Veterans Affairs presumes are caused by exposure to these substances. It offers care both to veterans and their survivors.

For too long, this country misused its veterans, some of whom it had pressed into service. This law makes a radical and welcome change. In addition to Biden and Gillibrand, credit for its passage goes to a comedian. Jon Stewart, a passionate supporter of veterans, tore into a group of Republican­s who, at the 11th hour, threatened to derail the bill. Shamed, they quickly backed down.

For informatio­n about benefits and services under the new law, visit or call 800-MYVA411. Veterans, themselves, should help spread the word to comrades who may not be aware that help is available — help that only a few months ago they might have been denied.

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