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

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – A new law is being billed as the biggest expansion of health care and benefits in Veterans Affairs history, 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. The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022, signed into law in August, 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 that more cancers and diseases were caused by those on-duty exposures.

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

According to the VA website, there are two new suspected conditions for Agent Orange, a tactical herbicide used by the US 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 suspected to be:

  • 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 diseases are now suspected to be:

  • Asthma 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)
  • Pleurisy
  • Pulmonary fibrosis
  • Sarcoidosis

Disposing of trash and other waste in open burn pits was a common practice in Iraq and Afghanistan military operations, the VA wrote online. “The Department of Defense has now closed most of the fire holes and plans to close the rest,” the website says.

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 about 1,800 veterans into its system, adding it’s unclear by how much that number will rise.

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

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