By Chad H. Lennon, Esq., for Tully Rinckey PLLC
Updated: The US Senate has passed a bill granting Veterans exposed to burn pits the right to receive VA benefits. Having also passed in the House it now heads to President Biden who is expected to sign it into law.
The legislation will be the most thorough deal to date for Veterans exposed to burn pits. The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, or PACT Act, will provide for 23 presumptive connections for Veterans exposed to burn pits. The Act will also include new benefits for Veterans who were exposed to radiation during the Cold War. Additionally, hypertension and monoclonal gammopathy will be added to the list of presumptive conditions for Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War. Agent Orange will also add the following countries: Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Guam, American Samoa, and Johnston Atoll. The PACT Act will not only create further presumptive conditions and add countries to these presumptive lists, but also add more staff to the VA in an effort to support Veterans seeking health care.
Veterans exposed to burn pits have struggled to connect conditions to their exposure to the toxic burn pits. The conditions resulting from exposure may not manifest for years or even a decade plus after being stationed in one of the countries that used burn pits to get rid of trash. In addition to the financial compensation Veterans can receive for the above-mentioned conditions, Veterans will also be able to receive healthcare from their service. The PACT Act would seek to add 31 major medical clinics across the country and employ thousands more claims processors and health care professionals.
It has long been argued that Veterans exposed to burn pits should have more presumptive conditions due to the medical connections related to respiratory conditions. Currently, there are only three presumptive conditions for burn pits (asthma, rhinitis, and sinusitis). The PACT Act will add 23 more presumptive conditions, and most importantly, the new list will include those with respiratory-based cancers. The PACT Act will add the following to the list of presumptive conditions: head cancer of any type, neck cancer of any type, respiratory cancer of any type, gastrointestinal cancer of any type, reproductive cancer of any type, lymphoma cancer of any type, lymphomatic cancer of any type, kidney cancer, brain cancer, melanoma, granulomatous disease (disorder associated with white blood cells), and any other disease the Secretary determines is warranted based on a positive association with certain substances, chemical, or airborne hazard.
The PACT Act would not be fully implemented immediately. Hypertension will be added to the presumptive conditions list for Agent Orange exposure immediately for those who are terminally ill, homeless, under extreme hardship, or are over 85 years old. This will not be implemented for the remaining Vietnam Veterans until October 2026. For those exposed to burn pits, chronic bronchitis will not be added to the presumptive list until October 2023, and kidney cancer will not be added until 2025.
The PACT Act could benefit 1 in 5 Veterans, while a coalition of 42 Veterans’ groups stated that the PACT Act’s scope is a favorable step in supporting our country’s Veterans. Once approved by the Senate and House, it will require the signature of only the President.
Chad Lennon is an attorney in the military law section at Tully Rinckey, PLLC. Also, he is a Major in the Marine Corps reserves. Concurrently he is the Co-Chair for the New York State Bar Association Committee on Veterans, Co-Chair for the Suffolk County Bar Association Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs, and is an Officer for the Suffolk County Bar Association Academy of Law. He can be reached at (646) 705-0049 or at email@example.com.