Veterans, apply for PACT Act benefits before Aug. 9 deadline
Almost a year has passed since President Biden signed into law the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins Act, more commonly called the PACT Act.
This historic legislation expands care and benefits to potentially millions of American Veterans by adding 23 presumptive conditions for those exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxins. Conditions cover a variety of ailments, including cancers and respiratory illnesses.
Simply put, Veterans may be eligible for new or increased care and benefits if they served during the Vietnam era, the Gulf War era or the Post-9/11 era and were exposed to toxic substances. Survivors may also be eligible.
It's the most extensive Veterans benefits and care expansion I've seen in my 23 years working for the Department of Veterans Affairs, first as a nurse and now as Director of Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital.
More than 720,000 Veterans nationwide have submitted claims for PACT Act benefits. However, an important deadline is approaching on Aug. 9.
Although the PACT Act will never expire, Veterans submitting a completed claim or an intent to file by Aug. 9 will have their approved benefits backdated to Aug. 10, 2022 - the law's effective date.
An extra year of care and benefits is potentially life-changing, and I encourage every Veteran and survivor who may qualify to submit a claim before the Aug. 9 deadline.
I've heard from several Veterans concerned that filing for PACT Act benefits could negatively affect their current disability rating. Others are reluctant because a previous claim was rejected.
Before the PACT Act, 70 percent of burn pit exposure disability claims were denied. Now, over 400,000 PACT Act claims have been processed with a 79 percent approval rate. There is a 97 percent chance that your benefits will either increase or stay the same.
Veterans should still file even if unsure about their eligibility. The PACT Act's criteria and presumptive conditions encompass a wide range of exposures and related health issues. Submitting allows experts to evaluate each case thoroughly. You can also see a VA physician for a toxic exposure screening, which is now mandatory for all Veterans receiving VA health care.
Veterans can submit a PACT Act claim at www.VA.gov/PACT. Or contact Hines VA Hospital's Outreach team at HinesOutreach@va.gov. For health care benefits, visit VA.gov/health-care, or call 877-222-8387.
Veterans can also bring a completed VA Form 10-10EZ to Hines VA Hospital's Eligibility Office, located in the main entrance lobby and available by phone at 708-202-8387, ext. 28838.
Hines VA and Veterans Benefits Administration will also hold a PACT Act Claims Clinic at the Hoffman Estates VA Clinic on Aug. 5 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to aid Veterans with their claims and questions.
If you'd like to file a claim without VA assistance, contact a Veteran Service Organization. Groups like The American Legion, VFW or The Disabled American Veterans have representatives available to assist Veterans in filing claims. These organizations have representatives at many VA medical centers, including Hines.
Support is also available through your local county Veteran Commission. Contact information for all Illinois counties is available at Veterans.Illinois.gov.
All the groups I mentioned will help you for free. Be careful of scams trying to take your benefits. Numerous Veterans have reported being contacted by scammers guaranteeing PACT Act benefits. Be cautious of anyone who requires compensation, personal information or a portion of your awarded benefits. Share any incident to ReportFraud.FTC.gov.
The United States military has no equal. Neither should the care we offer our Veterans. These are benefits you've earned. Take the step and submit your application to get the care and benefits you deserve.
You served us. Now let us serve you.
To learn more about the PACT Act or to file a claim, visit: www.VA.gov/PACT.