Veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange, and toxins during service may now be eligible for more coverage

The PACT Act is a new law that gives Veterans healthcare coverage for conditions stemming from exposure to toxins during military service.

This article provides an in-depth look at the PACT Act, including who is eligible for coverage and how the claims process works.

The PACT Act is the biggest expansion of VA healthcare and benefits in decades. In 2022, this federal legislation expanded VA healthcare and benefits to millions of Veterans exposed to toxins during their military service.

The PACT Act adds more than 20 “presumptive conditions” from burn pits, Agent Orange and other toxic exposures, which, if you meet the requirements for service, the VA will now automatically assume (or presume) were the cause of your condition. The act also adds more presumptive-exposure locations for Agent Orange and radiation.

If you’re a Veteran and you were exposed to toxins during your service, you may qualify for more coverage than before.

Expansion of eligibility

Did you serve in the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, or during the post-9/11 era? If so, you might now qualify for expanded or extended coverage.

Additionally, many post-9/11 combat Veterans may be eligible for coverage. If you fall into this cohort, the VA encourages you to apply for coverage regardless of your separation date.

Find out whether you’re eligible.

Presumptive conditions

The PACT Act covers certain types of toxic exposure conditions that are presumed to have come from your military service. You don’t have to prove they did.

Most disabilities require you to prove that your disability originated from your military service for you to receive coverage. But with presumptive conditions, you only need to meet the service requirements related to the condition.

Read the full list of presumptive conditions added by the PACT Act.

Covered conditions

Through the PACT Act, many conditions have become presumptive, including many different kinds of cancer and lung and airway conditions.

A few common conditions addressed in the PACT Act are:

  • high blood pressure (a new presumed condition for Agent Orange exposure)
  • nose irritation and inflammation
  • sinus inflammation and infections
  • bronchial asthma

Access to toxic exposure screening

Under PACT, the VA is required to give you a toxic exposure screening as long as you’re a Veteran enrolled in VA healthcare.

You can get a toxic exposure screening at VA health facilities. You’ll receive a first screening and then follow-up screenings at least once every 5 years.

At the screening, you’ll be asked if you were present during certain known events or exposed to several known sources of toxins, and your healthcare specialist will recommend next steps and further resources for you.

Contact your local VA health facility to request a screening or ask for one at your next VA health appointment. To reach your local facility, you can call the main VA number (800-698-2411) and get connected with an agent.

Your first step is to submit an “intent to file” form to indicate that you intend to file a claim or supplemental claim for for disability compensation, pension benefits and/or dependency, and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits.

The “intent to file” form sets the potential start date or effective date for benefits. This is important for the consideration of retroactive benefits.

To submit this form, download VA form 21-0966 (PDF) and mail the completed form to: Department of Veterans Affairs, Claims Intake Center, PO Box 4444, Janesville, WI, 53547.

Then you can visit the Department of Veterans Affairs website to file a claim and apply for benefits.

The process for filing a disability claim for PACT Act-related conditions is the same as you’d follow to file other disability claims:

  • Find out whether you’re eligible.
  • Fill out your claim.
  • Provide all necessary supporting documents.

Learn more about how to file a disability claim with the VA.

If you already made a claim for coverage before PACT, but it was denied or coverage for the toxic exposure was omitted, you can submit a supplemental claim to receive your new coverage.

To file a supplemental claim, you’ll need to meet a few requirements, including:

  • The VA decided on your claim in the past, and it was not “contested.” This means you did not challenge the VA decision to deny a previous claim for toxic exposure health care, or benefits related to conditions.
  • You’re requesting a review of your claim based on the PACT Act — that is, you believe you were exposed to toxic or hazardous conditions during service.

You can make a supplemental claim online, in person, by phone with the VA, or through a Veterans Service Organization (VSO).

Learn more about how to file a supplemental claim with the VA.

The retroactive filing period has concluded, meaning you can no longer receive coverage for time before you submitted your claim, but you are still able to apply for coverage going forward.

There’s no deadline to apply for PACT benefits but, once you submit an intent to file form, you have one year to complete and file the claim.

Once your application is approved, you’ll receive the benefits covering your toxic exposure care for the rest of your life.

If you’re a Veteran who experienced exposure to burn pits, Agent Orange, and toxins, consider applying for the new health benefits available to you.

You can file a VA claim now to apply for PACT Act-related benefits, including critical care and support for families of survivors.

There’s no deadline to apply for benefits, but the VA is encouraging enrollment as soon as possible, given the severity of many presumptive conditions under PACT.