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Potential Legislative Relief for Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits

On August 2, 2022, the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins Act (P.A.C.T) passed votes in both the Senate and the House, meaning it is just a Presidential signature away from becoming law. This bipartisan piece of legislation was created to improve healthcare benefits for veterans exposed to toxic substances.Under current regulations, many veterans who suffer from an illness that they believe was caused by exposure to toxins while in the military, must provide proof that they were actually exposed to toxins during their military service and that such exposure is as likely as not the cause of their current medical condition. This difficult process served as a roadblock for many veterans, preventing them from getting the help and compensation they deserve.

One of the groups most affected by this new legislation is Veterans who have medical conditions as a result of toxic exposure from burn pits. Burn pits refer to a military practice, common in Iraq and Afghanistan, where an assortment of garbage, such as plastics, used medical materials, and damaged vehicle parts, were burned using jet fuel. Evidence of exposure to these pits is often very difficult to produce because the military did not keep records of where and when the disposal occurred.

Once passed, the PACT Act will create a presumption of specific toxic exposure for troops who served in certain areas within the prescribed timeframes. This presumption would make any eligible veteran, who suffers from one of the enumerated conditions, eligible to receive compensation without jumping through the hurdles previously required. Veterans to whom this presumption applies, are those in active service on or after August 2, 1990, in the countries of Bahrain, Iraq, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, or the United Arab Emirates or those in active service on or after September 11, 2001, in Afghanistan, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, or Uzbekistan.

There are 23 conditions that this presumptive condition applies to, including: asthma, 11 different types of cancer, bronchitis, pulmonary disease, bronchiolitis, emphysema, granulomatous disease, interstitial lung disease, pleuritis, pulmonary fibrosis, sarcoidosis, chronic sinusitis, chronic rhinitis, and glioblastoma. Once again, this list is not permanent and new conditions may be added in the future.

This extensive list of conditions is expected to help provide coverage to millions of veterans. The Congressional Budget Office projects billions of dollars will be spent in the next decade alone. Some estimates believe that the PACT Act will affect one in five current veterans.

Additionally, aside from creating new presumptions for Burn Pit exposure, the PACT Act will also expand benefits for Veterans exposed to radiation in the Cold War and an expansion of the eligibility and conditions presumptive to Agent Orange exposure. Similar to the presumptions discussed above, the PACT Act creates a presumption of service connection for Veterans who participated in a nuclear cleanup at Enewetak Atoll, as well as those who participated in a nuclear response near Palomares, Spain, or Greenland. Additionally, the VA expanded the conditions presumptive to Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War.

The PACT Act looks to be one of the most significant pieces of Veterans Legislation in years. As the ramifications of this act are being put into place, having experienced representation to walk you through this process is of the upmost importance, to ensure the process is as efficient as possible and that represented veterans are compensated to the fullest extent of the law. Therefore, if you believe that yourself or a loved one may be eligible for compensation under the PACT Act, or a claim stemming from toxic exposure was denied in the past, reach out to the staff at Stevens & Sullivan. Remember, the PACT Act has not yet been signed into law, so stay tuned for future updates.

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