With PACT Act in effect, VA urges veterans with health issues from toxins to file claims

Orlando VA hosting open houses for veterans

ORLANDO, Fla. – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is urging more veterans to file claims for health issues potentially caused by toxins, even if they’ve been denied in the past.

The PACT Act, which passed in August and was signed by President Biden, could help up to 3.5 million veterans, but the VA says only a fraction of veterans have filed claims.

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The full name of the law is Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Promise to Address Toxics Act. Terrence Hayes, a press secretary for the VA, said it’s named after SFC Robinson, an Ohio National Guardsmen who died of medical complications as a result of his service to our country.

The PACT Act expands and extends eligibility for Vietnam, Gulf War and post-9/11 veterans. The law expands health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange and other toxic substances.

It also adds 23 presumptive cancers and other illnesses, requires toxic screenings from the VA, and adds more presumptive exposure locations for Agent Orange and radiation.

Hayes said this makes it easier for veterans to get the help they need.

“Now with us presuming that you have these conditions, and if you’re diagnosed with any of these 23 conditions, the burden of proof is out of your hands. It makes the process so simple,” Hayes said.

As a Floridian and veteran, Hayes felt it was important to come to Central Florida to connect with veterans and educate them on the PACT Act and its benefits.

“As a combat veteran myself who served in Iraq for 16 months, who came in contact with burn pits and toxic substances, this is very personal to me,” Hayes said.

Hayes said he is begging veterans who may have been denied a claim in the past to give the VA another chance. He said as of Tuesday they have received 176,000 claims but they’re hoping for more.

“We know this bill has impacted potentially 3.5 million people. To some people, 176,000 seems like a lot but that’s just a fraction of how many claims are potentially out there,” Hayes said.

Hayes said they have hired 2,000 claims adjudicators and plan to hire more so they can get benefits into veterans’ hands quickly. He also said they plan to hire more clinicians to keep up with the anticipated increased demand for health care.

The Orlando VA Healthcare System will hold two PACT Act benefits open houses at their Lake Baldwin and Lake Nona locations. For more information on those events, visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website.

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Emily joined WKMG-TV in November 2022.