Advocates Push to Expand PACT Act Benefits, Add Blood Cancers to Burn Pit Presumptive Conditions List
Veterans’ advocates are pushing to have several blood cancers linked to burn pit exposure added to the list of burn pit presumptive conditions created by the PACT Act. The move would make some Gulf War and post-9/11 veterans eligible for expedited disability benefits and healthcare, and would mark the first expansion of the PACT Act for burn pit-related diseases since the law went into effect in 2022. For veterans afflicted with these blood cancers, presumptive status and the benefits that flow from it can’t come fast enough.
Military.com reports that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has committed to a thorough scientific review that could confirm the link between burn pit exposure and three kinds of blood cancer—acute leukemias, chronic leukemias, and multiple myeloma outside of the head and neck. While multiple myeloma is already presumed to be service-connected when it occurs in the head or neck, other forms of blood cancer remain uncompensated despite their similarities.
Veterans’ advocates who commented as part of the VA’s public review process testified that the situation is urgent. Former service members who were exposed to burn pits in the Gulf region and later developed leukemia or multiple myeloma do not have the time to wait for their disability claims to be decided on a case-by-case basis, advocates assert.
Why Are Burn Pit Presumptive Conditions So Important?
Before the passage of the PACT Act, the VA placed the burden on veterans to provide evidence of a direct service connection between their illnesses and burn pit exposure. That proved to be too high a bar. Between 2007 and 2020, the VA denied 78% of burn pit exposure claims, while many former service members succumbed to their illnesses.
This all changed with the passage of the PACT Act, the biggest veterans benefits bill in U.S. history. The PACT Act was the result of a decades-long struggle waged by veterans and their advocates to change the way the VA deals with toxic exposure claims. The PACT Act created a presumptive benefits list for burn pit exposure, removing the number of hoops veterans battling major illnesses have to jump through in order to get disability benefits. It also expanded benefits for Agent Orange and radiation exposure, and unlocked the courts for survivors of Camp Lejeune water contamination.
Now, if you developed a condition on the burn pit presumptive conditions list after operating near burn pits for any amount of time in Afghanistan, Iraq, or elsewhere in the Gulf region, you are entitled to disability compensation without having to provide additional evidence. As of January 2024, the burn pit presumptive conditions are:
- Adenosquamous carcinoma of the lung
- Adenocarcinoma of the trachea
- Brain cancer
- Gastrointestinal cancer of any type
- Head cancer of any type
- Kidney cancer
- Large cell carcinoma of the lung
- Lymphatic cancer of any type
- Lymphoma of any type
- Neck cancer of any type
- Pancreatic cancer
- Reproductive cancer of any type
- Respiratory cancer of any type
- Salivary gland-type tumors of the lung or trachea
- Sarcomatoid carcinoma of the lung
- Squamous cell carcinoma of the larynx or trachea
- Typical and atypical carcinoid of the lung
Respiratory Diseases and Conditions
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Granulomatous Rhinitis
- Interstitial lung disease
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Rhinosinusitis (sinusitis)
As of September 2023, the VA had approved nearly 80% of the 570,000 claims it processed post-PACT Act, paying out more than $2.2 billion in disability compensation to veterans or survivors since it began accepting claims in 2022, according to a Military.com report.
Who Is Eligible for PACT Act Benefits?
Millions of Gulf War and post-9/11 veterans are eligible for benefits through the PACT Act. If you have one or more of the conditions on the burn pit presumptive list, all you need is a diagnosis and records indicating time and place of deployment.
What Should Veterans with Leukemia or Multiple Myeloma Caused by Burn Pit Exposure Do Now?
While veterans with chronic lymphocytic leukemia enjoy presumptive benefits, other forms of leukemia are currently under consideration. Similarly, veterans with multiple myeloma in the head or neck already qualify for presumptive benefits. However, those with multiple myeloma outside these areas will need to file a claim and provide evidence of a direct service-connection. For now, these claims will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
This may sound daunting, but it is important for veterans and their loved ones to apply for VA disability benefits as soon as possible. In the event that the blood cancers we have been discussing are added to the burn pit presumptive list, the veteran or survivor will be granted backpay dating back to the time they filed their initial claim. Backpay always goes back to the time of initial claim filing rather than the time when the veteran first started showing signs of illness. Learn more about how VA backpay works below.
If you have not filed a claim already, take a look at our Getting Started page for help filing an initial claim. If you’re somewhere in the middle of the process, or have already been evaluated for burn pit exposure, please take a look at our comprehensive guide to how the VA determines burn pit ratings.
Protecting Your Burn Pit Benefits: Our Commitment to Veterans’ Advocacy and Thorough Claims Support
Here at the Rep For Vets, we fight to get disabled veterans and their dependents the compensation they earned when they signed up to serve. Our VA-accredited claims agents will meticulously review your file, looking for VA errors and generally ensuring you’re not leaving any disability compensation on the table.
Whether it’s appealing a rejected claim, reopening a claim due to worsened conditions, or navigating the complexities of backpay, our team is here to provide guidance and support.
If you believe you may be owed backpay or need assistance with your appeal, call us at (888) 573-7838 for a free consultation. We are dedicated to advocating for veterans. This is what we do, this is all we do. We look forward to learning about your unique experience and helping out in any way we can.