Health

Millions of veterans with toxic exposures could get expanded VA health care

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – A new law is considered the largest health care and benefit expansion in the history of the Veterans Affairs, but not every veteran knows it’s out there.

The Madison VA wants veterans and survivors to apply for their PACT Act benefits and care. Signed into legislation in August, the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022 expands VA health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange and other toxic substances.

The legislation added more than 20 presumptive conditions for toxic exposures, allowing the VA to assume more cancers and illnesses were caused by those exposures during service.

“Definitely for years, we’ve seen veterans coming back with these complaints of the exposures that they had and conditions that were coming up,” Dr. Ryan Marsh, a physician and lead environmental health clinician at the Madison VA, said. “I think it’s great that the VA, Congress and the President have recognized that and given us more resources and increased those number of conditions that we think are related.”

According to the VA website, there are two new presumptive conditions for Agent Orange, a tactical herbicide used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War:

  • High blood pressure (also called hypertension)
  • Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS)

For Gulf War era and post-9/11 veterans, there are more than 20 burn pit and other toxic exposure presumptive conditions based on the PACT Act:

These cancers are now presumptive:

  • Brain cancer
  • Gastrointestinal cancer of any type
  • Glioblastoma
  • Head cancer of any type
  • Kidney cancer
  • Lymphatic cancer of any type
  • Lymphoma of any type
  • Melanoma
  • Neck cancer of any type
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Reproductive cancer of any type
  • Respiratory (breathing-related) cancer of any type

These illnesses are now presumptive:

  • Asthma that was diagnosed after service
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Chronic rhinitis
  • Chronic sinusitis
  • Constrictive bronchiolitis or obliterative bronchiolitis
  • Emphysema
  • Granulomatous disease
  • Interstitial lung disease (ILD)
  • Pleuritis
  • Pulmonary fibrosis
  • Sarcoidosis

The VA wrote online, disposing trash and other waste in open burn pits was a common practice in Iraq and Afghanistan military operations. “The Department of Defense has now closed out most burn pits and is planning to close the remainder,” the website stated.

The PACT Act also requires the VA to screen every veteran enrolled in VA health care for toxic exposures. So far, Dr. Marsh said the Madison VA has screened roughly 1,800 veterans in its system, adding it’s unclear by how much that number will go up.

More details on the PACT Act can be found at VA.gov/PACT. Call 1-800-MyVA411 for additional help.

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