VA health coverage will expand to all veterans exposed to toxins from Vietnam War through post-9/11 conflicts

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Millions of veterans exposed to hazardous substances during military service — from burn pits and sulfur fires to asbestos and firefighting foams — will become eligible for free or low-cost care at Department of Veterans Affairs health facilities, agency officials said.

Starting Tuesday, enrollment in VA health care will open to qualifying veterans from the Vietnam War, Gulf War, conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the global war on terrorism, or any other combat zone after 9/11, the VA said.

Requirements are waived for veterans to first file a medical claim for disability compensation — and get the claim approved — to access health services at VA clinics, doctor’s offices, and hospitals.

Copayments for medical treatments related to toxic exposures will be waived for new enrollees. Fees can range from $15 to $50 depending on the type of medical service.

Qualifying veterans are eligible for free or low-cost care for a range of health services, including primary care, surgeries, urgent care and emergency services.

VA health care coverage also extends to specialized care, such as cancer treatment and kidney dialysis.

“Bottom line, it’s now quicker and easier than ever for you to enroll,” said Terrance Hayes, VA press secretary. “You don’t need to be sick or file a claim to become eligible.”

With this new expansion, the administration of President Joe Biden has opted to open signup for health care coverage to all eligible veterans rather than continuing phased-in enrollments through 2032, he said.

The VA on Thursday was unable to respond to questions about the reasons for the expansion now, its cost or the funding source.

Veterans can enroll online at The VA will use available information in military records, including service dates and locations, to confirm eligibility.

“All you have to do is show that you served in one of the specified locations or operations — or participated in one of the activities that could have exposed you to hazards,” Hayes said.

Exposures span chemicals, radiation, air pollutants, nerve agents and other harmful substances, the VA said.

Veterans who were never deployed but were exposed to hazardous substances while training or on active duty in the U.S. also will be eligible to enroll.

“VA is proven to be the best, most affordable health care in America for veterans — and once you’re in, you have access for life,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement.

The expansion is a result of the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, or PACT Act.

More than 500,000 veterans already have enrolled in VA health care since Biden signed the PACT into law in 2022.

The PACT Act has sought to improve access to disability benefits for veterans who developed certain medical conditions after exposure to herbicides, radiation and burn pits during military service.

Any veteran who participated in what is known as a “toxic exposure risk activity” at home or abroad qualifies for VA health care enrollment under this expansion.

Toxic exposures extend to burn pits, oil well fires, sandstorms, sulfur fires, pesticides, herbicides, depleted uranium with embedded shrapnel, contaminated water, asbestos, industrial solvents, lead, paints and firefighting foams.

They also cover exposure to nerve agents, biological weapons and radiation, including through X-rays and nuclear weapons handling, maintenance and detonation.

The former service members must have handled, managed or have been near the toxins to qualify.

Veterans will not be required to first prove through medical claims that they have a diagnosed medical condition related to the toxic exposure, the VA said.

The expansion is for health care enrollment and not for monthly disability compensation.

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