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Veterans face Aug. 9 deadline for retroactive toxic exposure benefits

An Air Force service member tosses items into a burn pit at Balad Air Base, Iraq, in March 2008. (Senior Airman Julianne Showalter/US Air Force/TNS)

Veterans exposed to toxic substances during their military service can receive up to a year of retroactive benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, but only if they apply by Aug. 9, the one-year anniversary of President Joe Biden signing the landmark legislation known as the PACT Act into law.

Congress passed the PACT Act — short for “Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics” — after years of advocacy from veterans and their loved ones, who had fought to get benefits for a range of health problems linked to toxins from burn pits, Agent Orange and other sources.

It also extends the period when post-9/11 veterans can enroll for VA health care from five years to 10. Those who served in combat operations and were discharged prior to October 2013 can also qualify for VA health care if they apply before Oct. 1.

Under the law, the VA now treats 23 specific health conditions as “presumptive,” removing the burden of proof that a condition was caused by military service for veterans who served during the Vietnam War, Gulf War and post-9/11 eras. Surviving family members of deceased veterans may also qualify for benefits.

There is no deadline to qualify, and those who apply for benefits after Aug. 9 will still be eligible, but they won’t receive retroactive benefits dating back to when the law took effect.

The VA estimates 3.5 million more veterans could qualify for VA benefits under the PACT Act. As of July 1, according to the department, more than 300,000 claims had been approved — a 79% approval rate — and nearly 392,000 claims were pending, with an average processing time of about 115 days.

VA facilities across the country are hosting “VetFest” events throughout July to raise awareness of the PACT Act and the Aug. 9 cutoff date.

Every Democrat in the House and Senate supported the PACT Act, but Republicans were split, with some objecting to the bill’s cost, which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated at $667 billion between 2022 and 2031.

Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch were among 11 Republicans who voted against the bill in the Senate. In the House, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane and North Idaho Rep. Russ Fulcher voted “no” along with 86 other Republicans, while Rep. Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside and then-Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of southwest Washington were among 123 GOP lawmakers who helped pass the bill.

Information on the law and how to apply for benefits is available online at, or by calling 1-800-MYVA411.


(c) 2023 The Spokesman-Review

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