Toxic Exposure Benefits Soar for Veterans as New Law Nears Anniversary

toxic-exposure-benefits-soar-for-veterans-as-new-law-nears-anniversary

Nicole Leger has always viewed waste pits on Afghanistan military bases as campfires rather than health hazards. She would hurl sensitive documents into the fire while gathering up with fellow soldiers, providing a brief respite from her more dangerous duties as a hastily trained medic for the U.S. Army.

“At the time, we did not recognize the danger,” she remarked. “This was merely a mission requirement. Therefore, we had to finish the assignment.”

Then, however, she developed respiratory issues, which deteriorated upon her return home, where she frequently struggled for oxygen at night. She remembered thinking, “This wasn’t who I was before I got in.”

Although Leger was already receiving disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder, migraines, and a hip fracture, her monthly compensation did not reflect the impact of burn pits until President Joe Biden signed the PACT Act last year. Now 34 years old, Leger and her fiancé have relocated from a confined townhouse to a spacious home in a Tampa, Florida suburb, where each of their four children will have a bedroom.

“I still wake up pinching myself,” she declared.

As the one-year anniversary of the law approaches, the administration is rushing to sign up as many people as possible. Leger is one of the recipients of the largest expansion of veterans assistance in decades. Although there is no application deadline, anyone who submits a claim or merely indicates their intent to do so by Wednesday will be eligible for retroactive payments to the previous year if their claim is approved.

Certain cancers and illnesses are presumed to be related to the fire pits that were used to dispose of garbage and potentially hazardous materials, per the law.During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military used Agent Orange to eradicate vegetation. 

Hypertension and other conditions were added to the list of ailments believed to be caused by exposure to Agent Orange.

Thursday, Biden will commemorate the anniversary of the law at a Veterans Affairs facility in Salt Lake City. According to administration data, the Department of Veterans Affairs has received nearly 786 000 disability claims under the PACT Act, processed nearly 435 000 of them, and approved over 348 000 of them.

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Toxic Exposure in Veterans: 111,000 Enroll in VA Health Care, 4.1 Million Complete Assessments

toxic-exposure-benefits-soar-for-veterans-as-new-law-nears-anniversary
Nicole Leger has always viewed waste pits on Afghanistan military bases as campfires rather than health hazards. She would hurl sensitive documents into the fire while gathering up with fellow soldiers, providing a brief respite from her more dangerous duties as a hastily trained medic for the U.S. Army.

Approximately 111,000 veterans with suspected toxic exposure have enrolled in VA health care since the law’s passage. In addition, over 4,1 million veterans have completed toxic assessments, which consist of questionnaires that assess their potential exposure and determine if additional tests are necessary.

Despite employing new personnel to facilitate a historic influx of claims, the VA has found it difficult to implement the legislation. The backlog is approximately 266,000, requiring processing delays of at least four months, and the list is expected to increase to 450,000 in October and 730,000 in April. During a recent hearing for oversight. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, voiced concern over “bad trends.”

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough stated that based on internal projections, his agency is performing better than anticipated and is using new technology to process claims more quickly.

“Am I content? I’m not,” he stated in an interview with the Associated Press. “I will not be satisfied until every veteran in this country is aware of the benefits available to him or her, has filed a claim, and that claim has been approved,”

The VA has maintained its outreach efforts despite the expanding backlog. It has spent $7.5 million on advertising, including a Times Square billboard, and hosted events across the country. Jon Stewart, who was instrumental in promoting the PACT Act, has contributed by uploading videos on social media.

“The VA could have rolled it out gradually to make their job easier,” said Allison Jaslow, the leader of the advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. To their credit, however, they did not. Jaslow stated that the department is “doing a remarkable job considering the volume of claims received.”

A year ago, it appeared that the PACT Act might not be approved. When Republicans refused, the legislation unexpectedly stalled, prompting advocates to begin camping outside the Capitol. Biden contracted the coronavirus and was unable to visit the veterans in person, so he sent McDonough with pizza and spoke to them via FaceTime.

The pressure campaign was successful, and Congress passed the legislation. It was a bipartisan triumph as well as a personal victory for Biden, who has long believed that his eldest son, Beau, contracted fatal brain cancer as a result of his service as a Delaware Army National Guard captain near waste pits in Iraq.

McDonough views the PACT Act as a turning point for the VA, making it more agile, robust, and competitive. “The president has made it abundantly clear that this new law could represent the largest expansion of VA benefits and care in the history of the VA,” he stated.

Not only veterans are eligible for benefits under the PACT Act. More than sixteen thousand surviving family members have filed claims. Ailyn Colby, 59, whose spouse Glenn died of colon cancer six years ago, is one of those eligible for compensation. Glenn died of colon cancer six years ago.

He has a former major in the Rhode Island National Guard who served in Iraq and was 51 years old. Colby, who resides near Hartford, Connecticut, said, “He never really told me about his experience because I might have been too concerned about him.” She described the denial of her application for survivor benefits as a “horrible experience”

In April, however, when she reapplied under the PACT Act, the claim was approved.

“I believed they remembered the family,” she stated.

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Source: ABC News, Spectrum News 1

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