news legislation providing care to veterans for toxic exposure becomes u s law
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Legislation providing care to veterans for toxic exposure becomes U.S. law

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The United States Department of Veterans Affairs will begin processing benefits related to Honoring Our PACT Act in January 2023.

The legislation, supported by U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, was signed into law by President Joe Biden in August, and will provide generations of Virginia veterans and their family members with VA care, according to a press release.

Honoring Our PACT expands VA healthcare and benefits for veterans who were exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances during their military service. Veterans of the Vietnam War, Gulf War and post 9/11 conflicts are eligible.

“The men and women of our armed forces put their lives and health on the line to protect their fellow Americans,” Spanberger said in the press release. “Through their selfless service to our country, many of our service members were exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic substances. For decades, our nation’s toxic-exposed Veterans and Veterans advocates have fought to make sure that these heroes get the same level of care as everyone else who puts on the uniform. With this legislation — now law — we are making decades-overdue progress to help the VA fulfill its promise to care for all Virginia Veterans who have borne the battle.”

The press release stated that combat veterans discharged or released on or after Oct. 1, 2013 are eligible to receive VA healthcare for any condition related to their service for up to 10 years from date of their most recent discharge or separation. Veterans discharged or released between Sept. 11, 2001 and Oct. 1, 2013 who are enrolled in VA healthcare can take advantage of a one-year special enrollment period between Oct. 1, 2022 and Oct. 1, 2023.

The legislation adds 23 conditions to the list of presumptive service-connected conditions due to burn pits and other toxic exposure for Gulf War-era and post 9/11 veterans. Veterans with these conditions will no longer have to prove that their military service was the source of the condition. More locations of presumed exposure are also added by the bill.

Additionally, Honoring Our PACT Act adds the presumptive conditions of high blood pressure and monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) to the list of presumptive conditions that qualify for VA care.

By this law, the VA must provide every veteran with a toxic exposure screening, and benefits are also expanded for surviving family members of veterans.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.