PACT Act paves way for expanded veteran care in Montana

Earlier this month, Congress passed Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, or PACT Act, sweeping legislation that is expected to expand access to health care for more than 3.5 million military veterans across the country. The law, which faced a rocky road to pass in Congress, targets veterans who have suffered illnesses related to exposure to toxic combustion fireplaces. Although the road to implementing the law’s provisions may be long, many veterans and their supporters throughout Montana are optimistic about its implications for former service members.

PACT, the largest health care and benefits expansion program in Veterans Affairs (VA) history, focuses primarily on reducing barriers to care related to exposure to toxic chemicals. Many veterans who have toured overseas have worked near fire pits on military bases – or large fires in which troops incinerated computers, furniture, medical waste and other trash . Toxic exposure from combustion fireplaces has been linked to various cancers and respiratory diseases such as asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. President Joe Biden, who signed the law, told the media he believed his late son Beau had developed brain cancer due to exposure to a toxic combustion hearth while serving in Iraq in as a member of the Delaware National Guard.

While former service members have long been able to file disability claims with the VA related to toxic exposure, these claims have often been denied because veterans could not adequately prove that their military service was the explicit cause. of their ailments. Key provisions of the PACT Act add 23 presumptive conditions and a handful of suspected exposure locations to the list of toxin-related illnesses. This means that for many more veterans, their health problems will be assumed to have been caused by toxic exposure, rather than requiring veterans to prove the connection in order to receive benefits. In addition to more presumptive conditions, the legislation adds a range of locations and time periods to the exposure list presumption, particularly sites in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and the Middle East, from 1990.

“This is a historic moment that has spanned months, if not decades,” said Democratic Montana Sen. Jon Tester, who serves as chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and led efforts to pass the bill. law. “For generations, veterans exposed to toxic substances have had to fight our government for the health care and benefits they have won. I’m proud to say that after today, that fight is over.

The legislation is set to have significant reach in Montana, a state with one of the highest percentages of veterans per capita in the country. In 2020, Flathead County was home to 8,642 veterans, many of whom will now be eligible for health care and benefits under the expanded qualifications.

“We are grateful for the opportunities that the PACT Act provides our veterans,” said Montana VA Health Care System Executive Director Dr. Judy Hayman in a press release. “Our Veterans deserve the highest quality care. This law helps us provide generations of veterans – and their survivors – with the care and benefits they have earned and deserve.

Michael Stone, vice president of the Veterans Coalition of Northwest Montana, a veterans support organization focused on suicide prevention, said many of the veterans he sees in his work have been affected by related illnesses. to exposure to toxic wells. While he looks forward to the increased benefits the PACT Act will bring, he said it could take a long time to implement.

“In the long run, this will be good for the Valley veterans here, but it will take a bit of time to get the paperwork up to date, he said. Ultimately, however, “that’s good news.”

In addition to veterans, surviving family members of veterans who died due to conditions covered by the PACT Act may also be eligible for benefits. Veterans and their family members who believe they may qualify for PACT benefits can learn more and file a VA application now by visiting or calling 1-800-MY-VA -411.

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