PACT Act Fast-Tracks Benefits for Burn Pit Related Illnesses
This article on Burn Pits is one in a series exploring the benefits created by the Honoring Our PACT Act, the biggest VA veterans benefits bill in U.S. history.
The bill promises to:
- Add 23 presumptive medical conditions connected to exposure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan
- Extend the presumption of Agent Orange exposure to locations beyond Vietnam and her waters
- Allow Camp Lejeune survivors and family members to file lawsuits for damages
- Expand healthcare eligibility and screening for toxic exposures for all veterans
Relief is on the way for millions of veterans who were exposed to toxic smoke from burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. With the historic passage of the Honoring our PACT Act, the biggest expansion of VA benefits in recent history, veterans may now claim presumptive benefits for 23 respiratory illnesses and cancers linked to the toxic smoke. The new law speeds up disability payouts to those individuals, with potential payments of up to $3,000 a month.
Why are presumptive benefits important? Until until now, the VA has placed the burden on veterans to provide evidence of a service connection between their illnesses and a particular burn pit. That proved hard to do. Between 2007 and 2020, the VA denied 78% of burn pit exposure claims.
Veterans and their advocates have fought tirelessly to expand the presumptive benefits list for burn pits. The PACT Act is the result of that long struggle. Now, if you got sick after operating near burn pits for any amount of time between 1990 through the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and the Gulf region, you’re entitled to disability compensation without having to provide additional evidence.
What Are Burn Pits?
Burn pits were used in Iraq, Afghanistan and other Southwest Asian war zones to dispose of all kinds of military refuse, from batteries to body parts. As much as 250 tons of trash a day were burned with jet fuel in huge open pits the size of football fields, spewing toxic fumes and carcinogens into the air. The fallout from the use of burn pits has been described as the post-9/11 generation’s Agent Orange. That’s not just a metaphor. When trash is burned with jet fuel, it releases dioxin in the air, the same chemical used in Agent Orange. And that chemical persists in the body for many years. So it’s no wonder that veterans exposed to toxic smoke from open burn pits went on to develop a number of severe illnesses.
What is the PACT Act?
Thirty years after the first Gulf War veterans started coming home with respiratory ailments and rare cancers, the U.S. government finally honored its pledge to provide disability benefits connected to toxic exposures. The PACT Act, short for Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, is easily the biggest bill to fund veterans health care in decades. And it is largely focused on bringing relief to veterans exposed to burn pits in the form of presumptive benefits.
The VA estimates that 3.5 million veterans were exposed to burn pits, but not everyone exposed to toxic smoke has developed long-term illnesses. The severity of burn pit exposure-related illnesses depends on length of exposure, proximity, and other genetic factors. Still, enough veterans have reported similar illnesses following exposure to burn pits to justify expanding the VA burn pit presumptive benefits list.
What 23 Presumptive Conditions Does the PACT Act Service-Connect to Burn Pit Exposure?
The presumptive benefits list now includes all respiratory-based cancers — not just rare ones — which veterans’ advocates have long maintained are caused by burn pit exposure.
Here is the full list of cancers now assumed to be service-connected:
- Respiratory cancer of any type
- Head and neck cancer of any type
- Gastrointestinal cancer of any type
- Reproductive cancer of any type
- Lymphoma and lymphomatic cancer of any type
- Kidney cancer
- Brain cancer
As we reported last year, asthma, rhinitus and sinitus are already eligible for presumptive benefits. The PACT Act adds 9 more chronic respiratory illnesses to the presumptive list. They are:
- Obstructive pulmonary disease
- Granulomatous disease
- Interstitial lung disease
- Pulmonary fibrosis
Why It Matters
Expansion of the burn pit presumptive conditions list makes more veterans eligible for fast-tracked benefits. Presumptive claims have a higher approval rate, and are approved faster.
For veterans dealing with mounting medical expenses and unable to work and support their families, disability compensation can be a life-sustaining. It’s also a form of recognition that you sacrificed for your country, and for that you deserve to be fairly compensated.
Burn Pit VA Disability Rating
A 60% disability rating for burn pit exposure entitles you to over $1,000 a month in disability compensation. A 100% disabling condition entitles you to over $3,000 a month.
If you believe that your illness or disability is related to burn pit exposure, or you already receive benefits but your condition has worsened, do not hesitate to talk with one of our experienced VA-accredited claims agents about your options.
Who Is Eligible?
An estimated 3.5 million U.S. servicemembers were exposed to toxic smoke from open burn pits on military bases during the long post-9/11 wars in the Middle East. To be eligible for disability benefits, you must meet the following requirements:
- Lived or worked near a burn pit in Afghanistan, Djibouti, Syria, and Uzbekistan for any amount of time between September 19, 2001 to the present
- Deployed to the Southwest Asia theater of operations from August 2, 1990 to the present
- Received an honorable or general discharge
For visually impaired readers: the full list of countries and bodies of water is as follows: Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrian, Qatar, UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Afghanistan; Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, Red Sea.
Diagnosed with PTSD connected to your time in service? Learn how to navigate the VA’s labyrinth and get a 100% PTSD disability rating. Read more »
PACT Act Health Benefits
In addition to unlocking disability compensation for the conditions listed above, the PACT Act makes it easier for veterans to get quality healthcare related to burn pit exposure. The law will add 31 major medical clinics across the country, and would seek to take a more proactive approach to dealing with toxic exposures.
The VA will now be required to screen incoming veterans for potential toxic exposure as part of its primary care provider services. Thousands more claims processors and health care professionals will be hired to staff the new facilities and speed up the claims process.
How Soon Can I Start Receiving Disability Compensation?
The new disability benefits granted by the PACT Act will be phased in over the next few years.
The details are still being hammered out by the VA, but here’s what we know now.
- Chronic bronchitis and other respiratory conditions will be added to the presumptive list in October 2023.
- Cancer benefits will be phased in from 2024 to 2025.
- Kidney cancer will not be added until 2025.
We should note that veterans with especially severe medical issues may be able to get their claim expedited.
Get Professional Help With Your Burn Pit Claim Today
At The Rep For Vets, our VA-accredited claims agents help veterans beat the red tape. You see, our claims agents don’t like to see vets get pushed around. We refuse to forget what you’ve given to us. And we want to give something back to you by helping you get the benefits you deserve. Our claims agents promise to serve you as honorably as you have served your country.
If you have not already filed a claim, do so now. Don’t wait for presumptive benefits to be phased in. By applying for benefits now, you will have an earlier effective date, and may be able to recover backpay for the time you waited.
Was your service-connected claim denied or rated too low? Has your condition worsened? Don’t let an unfavorable VA decision discourage you from getting life-sustaining benefits. If your claim was denied you have a right to appeal. You may also appeal to increase your rating. The Rep For Vets also helps veterans win their claims for PTSD and TBI.