Local veterans among 1 million PACT Act claims granted

Two local veterans said the PACT Act — which recently helped grant the 1 millionth disability compensation claim through the Department of Veterans Affairs — has opened the door for vets who thought they would never receive health care benefits.

The legislation expanded VA health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange and other toxic substances, lengthening the the list of health conditions that the government assumes or presumes were caused by exposure to these substances during a veteran’s military service.

The act is perhaps the biggest expansion of federal health care benefits for veterans in generations.

Centerville Army and Army National Guard veteran Theresa Lucius is among those claims. Another veteran, Kevin Keller, of Washington Twp. is pursuing his own claim following his service in the Army, Marine Corps, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve.

In a joint interview, Keller and Lucius both reached for the same metaphor when trying to describe what the act does for veterans: They both say the act opens doors that previously were closed.

Lucius said she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and she lost half of her thyroid. Before the act, she does not believe she would have received any kind of “service connection” — a connection between a physical ailment and her service in the military — for such a cancer.

Proving a connection, before, could take painstaking documentation — documentation that may be tricky because soldiers sometimes are reluctant to report an illness while deployed.

“When you’re out in the middle of a war zone, you don’t go to a doctor because you have a cold,” Lucius said.

Now, under the act, the VA more readily assumes a connection, leading in some cases to monthly payments, health care and prescriptions.

“The PACT Act really kind of opened the door ... I didn’t have to show proof or connect it to my military service,” Lucius said.

“Trying to prove it early was just about impossible,” Keller said. “Now with this Pact Act, it opens up the door.”

President Biden signed the bill into law in August 2022. The act has led to 31,945 claims to veterans and survivors in Ohio, according to the VA.

Under the act, more than $181.3 million in benefits has gone to Ohio veterans and survivors, the department also said last week.

Since the act was signed into law, more than 21,151 Ohio veterans have also signed up for VA health care.

“Whenever a veteran gets a claim granted, it means life-changing monthly payments and access to no-cost VA health care for that condition,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “We’re proud that we’ve granted 1 million PACT Act-related claims for veterans and survivors, but we won’t rest until every veteran and every survivor gets the VA health care and benefits they deserve.”

“This law is the most comprehensive expansion of health care for veterans who faced toxic exposure in our country’s history,” Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, an early advocate of the act, said in his own statement. “Now it’s making sure nearly 32,000 veterans in Ohio — and a million across our country — are getting the care they earned through their service.”

The full name for the legislation is the “Sgt. First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022,” Brown’s office said.

The legislation is named after Robinson, a Central Ohio veteran who died in 2020 at age 39 from lung cancer after exposure to burn pits during a one-year deployment in Iraq in 2006, his office said.

To learn more or file a PACT Act claim, veterans may call (800) 698-2411 or visit www.va.gov/.

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