Veterans exposed to toxins from burn pits, Agent Orange, and contaminated water at Camp Lejeune will benefit from the most expansive veterans bill to pass Congress in decades.
The $283 billion Honoring our PACT Act opens the door for millions more veterans to receive VA disability benefits and health care. It also allows veterans who served at Camp Lejeune and civilians who lived or worked on the base to sue the federal government for harm caused by contaminated water.
In this article about the PACT Act
- Camp Lejeune lawsuits
- Millions of veterans exposed to burn pits eligible for VA disability benefits
- Broadening the definition of Gulf War veteran
- Expanded service connection for veterans exposed to Agent Orange
- How will the PACT Act affect atomic veterans?
- How to get VA disability benefits for illness related to toxic exposure
- How Woods and Woods can help
The PACT Act, which was introduced in Congress in June 2021, was championed by the VA and veterans service organizations. President Biden said he will sign it.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough said at a press conference last month that the bill will lead to 10.3 million more VA claims over the next 10 years. He previously said 3.5 million more veterans will receive treatment from the VA because of the law.
“It’s going to be a heavy lift,” he said. “We’re looking at a substantial expansion of our capability.”
To prepare for the increased workload, the VA has been ramping up its recruiting and hiring efforts and is asking for 14,000 more full-time employees in its 2023 budget request.
Critics of the PACT Act argue that the increase in claims and VA patients will further slow down claims processing and patient care. They also say the bill is too expensive and offers no plan to pay for it.
The VA launched a web page that answers veterans’ questions about how to receive benefits from the PACT Act. The following is a summary of how the bill will benefit veterans receiving VA disability benefits.
Camp Lejeune lawsuits
Under the new law, veterans and civilians who spent time at Camp Lejeune can sue the federal government for harm caused by contaminated water on the base. Specifically, those who served, lived, worked, or were otherwise exposed at Camp Lejeune for more than 30 consecutive days between Aug. 1, 1953, to Dec. 31, 1987, can seek compensation for illnesses likely caused by toxic water.
It is the first time veterans have ever been allowed to sue the federal government for harm caused during military service.
Hazardous chemicals seeped into the ground water contaminating the base’s water supply. The materials included trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), and benzene, which are linked to heightened risk of developing multiple cancers, birth defects, miscarriages, and many other serious diseases and conditions.
Millions of veterans exposed to burn pits eligible for VA disability benefits
The VA will now grant service connection for a long list of illnesses and conditions related to burn pit exposure and has expanded the list of eligible service areas.
The PACT Act includes 23 new presumptive conditions for burn pits, including 12 cancers. They are:
|Types of Cancer||Other Diseases|
|Head cancer of any type||Chronic bronchitis|
|Neck cancer of any type||Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)|
|Respiratory cancer of any type||Constrictive bronchiolitis or obliterative bronchiolitis|
|Gastrointestinal cancer of any type||Emphysema|
|Reproductive cancer of any type||Granulomatous disease|
|Lymphoma cancer of any type||Interstitial lung disease|
|Lymphomatic cancer of any type||Pleuritis|
|Kidney cancer||Pulmonary fibrosis|
Veterans who have a presumptive condition do not have to prove a connection, which is called a medical nexus, between their condition and their military service.
The VA denied more than 75% of disability claims related to burn pit exposure from 2007-2019, according to Burn Pits 360, an organization that advocates for toxic-exposed veterans.
The VA first began recognizing presumptive conditions for burn pit exposure in late 2021 when it announced asthma, rhinitis, and sinusitis would be service connected for veterans who were diagnosed with these conditions within 10 years of separation from active service. It added the following list of rare respiratory cancers in early 2022:
- Squamous cell carcinoma of the larynx
- Squamous cell carcinoma of the trachea
- Adenocarcinoma of the trachea
- Salivary gland-type tumors of the trachea
- Adenosquamous carcinoma of the lung
- Large cell carcinoma of the lung
- Salivary gland-type tumors of the lung
- Sarcomatoid carcinoma of the lung
- Typical and atypical carcinoid of the lung
The PACT Act brings the number of presumptive conditions for burn pits to 33. The presumption of exposure to burn pits has also been expanded to veterans who served in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Yemen after Sept. 19, 2001, or in Somalia after Aug. 2, 1990. Those locations will now be on the list, along with veterans who served in Afghanistan, Djibouti, Syria, and Uzbekistan after Sept. 2001, and those who served in the Southwest Asia theater of operations after Aug. 2, 1990.
Broadening the definition of Gulf War veteran
The definition of a Persian Gulf veteran now includes veterans who served on active duty in Afghanistan, Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, or Jordan.
Veterans who served in those countries—in addition to those who served in the Southwest Asia theater of operations—can receive VA disability benefits for presumptive conditions related to Gulf War syndrome.
The Southwest Asia theater of operations includes:
- Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia
- The neutral zone between Iraq and Saudi Arabia
- Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.)
- The Gulf of Aden and the Gulf of Oman
- The waters of the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, and the Red Sea
- The airspace above these locations
Until the passage of the PACT Act, Gulf War veterans only qualified for benefits if they developed a multisymptom chronic disability of 10% or more before 2026. The new rule is if the disability “manifests at any degree and at any time.”
Expanded service connection for veterans exposed to Agent Orange
The VA will soon presume service connection for two additional conditions for veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange. Exposed veterans with hypertension (high blood pressure) or monoclonal gammopathies can be service connected on a presumptive basis.
The PACT Act has also expanded eligibility for VA disability benefits related to Agent Orange to military members who served in additional locations. These locations include:
|Thailand (at any U.S. or Royal Thai base)||Jan. 9, 1962 – June 30, 1976|
|Laos||Dec. 1, 1965 – Sept. 30, 1969|
|Cambodia (at Mimot or Krek, Kampong Cham Province)||April 16, 1969 – April 30, 1969|
|Guam or American Samoa (or in the territorial waters)||Jan. 9, 1962 – July 31, 1980|
|Johnston Atoll (or on a ship that called at Johnston Atoll)||Jan. 1, 1972 – Sept. 30, 1977|
Prior to the passage of the PACT Act, presumption was only extended to veterans who served in Vietnam, its inland waterways, or on ships within 12 nautical miles of the Vietnam coast; in the Korean demilitarized zone; or on C-123 airplanes that transported Agent Orange.
How will the PACT Act affect atomic veterans?
The PACT Act includes provisions expanding access to VA disability benefits to certain atomic veterans. The VA will recognize presumptive exposure to radiation for veterans who, during their service:
- Participated in the cleanup of nuclear testing sites at Enewetak Atoll between Jan. 1, 1977, and Dec. 31, 1980.
- Responded to the accidental release of nuclear arms in Palomares, Spain, following the airborne collision of planes carrying thermonuclear weapons in 1966. The incident resulted in the release of plutonium, to which approximately 1,600 military and civilian personnel were exposed during response efforts between Jan. 17, 1966, and March 31, 1967.
- Responded to the accidental nuclear detonation near Thule Air Force Base in Greenland in 1968 after an on-board fire and crash of a B-52 bomber carrying nuclear weapons. The cleanup effort, dubbed Project Crested Ice, took place between Jan. 21, 1968, and Sept. 25, 1968, and resulted in the exposure of servicemembers to radioactive substances including uranium and plutonium.
Presumptive exposure to radiation is already recognized for veterans who occupied or were kept as prisoners of war in Hiroshima or Nagasaki, Japan, between Aug. 6, 1945, and July 1, 1946, as well as certain veterans who participated in nuclear testing.
The presumption of exposure will make it easier to access VA disability benefits for radiation-exposed veterans with certain types of cancers.
How to get VA disability benefits for illness related to toxic exposure
If you were exposed to toxins, environmental contaminants, or radiation during your military service, you can file a new VA disability claim. If you were previously denied a claim and now meet requirements for presumptive exposure, the VA recommends filing a supplemental claim.
How Woods and Woods can help
Woods and Woods has represented thousands of veterans and works hard to stay on top of the VA’s changes to its disability compensation program to ensure you are getting the support you need. Contact our team, and let us help you with your application today. We never charge for helping you with your initial application. If we help you appeal a decision, you won’t pay us unless we win your case.
Talk to Us About Your Claim: (866) 232-5777
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
The Honoring our PACT Act, passed by Congress in August 2022, extends VA disability benefits to veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange, and radiation. It also allows veterans and civilians exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune to sue the federal government for their injuries, and it expands the definition of Gulf War veteran.
Yes, the VA has a list of 33 presumptive conditions related to burn pits. The list includes multiple cancers and conditions.