The Department of Veterans Affairs will start processing PACT Act benefits claims for eligible terminally ill veterans immediately, the department said Tuesday.
While the VA said it cannot fully process PACT Act claims for all other veterans until Jan. 1, 2023, the department said it will “expedite processing for terminally ill veterans to Dec. 12.”
“This ensures terminally ill veterans will receive their earned benefits and health care on the earliest possible date,” the VA said.
The act — the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act — was signed into law in August, extending care more readily to veterans harmed by exposure to Agent Orange and toxic burn pits. The legislation not only covers Vietnam War-era veterans who served in other Southeast Asian countries, it also extends eligibility for VA healthcare to veterans of the Gulf War and post-9/11 era.
“These veterans have stepped up to serve our country in the times when we needed them most — and now it’s our job to step up for them,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “It’s the right thing to do to get these heroes the world-class health care and benefits they’ve earned as soon as possible, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
Tuesday was the earliest date VA could begin processing claims for terminally ill veterans.
Until Jan. 1, 2023, VA will finalize decisions on PACT Act claims that result in a grant of benefits — but only for terminally ill veterans. Claims that cannot be granted immediately will be held for evaluation after publication of guidance implementing the act.
“The PACT Act is one of the largest, most significant increases of federal benefits for veterans in decades,” Greene County Veterans Services Executive Director Tim Espich told the Dayton Daily News in October.
Payout of PACT benefits was originally scheduled to be made in the next several years.
“This is a cost of going to war. If you were exposed to toxins while serving our country, you deserve the benefits you earned. Period. No exceptions,” Sen. Sherrod Brown told the Dayton Daily News. “It’s because of veterans and their families’ advocacy, persistence and insistence – that’s why the PACT Act is law today and that’s why we’re finally talking about how veterans can sign up to get the health care and disability benefits they’ve earned and deserve. We specifically prioritized terminally-ill veterans when we drafted the PACT Act, so they and their families have care they can count on during the most difficult time.”
The VA said it will also prioritize PACT Act claims filed by veterans with cancer, veterans experiencing homelessness, veterans older than 85 years old, veterans experiencing financial hardship and Medal of Honor and Purple Heart recipients.
Since the act became law in August, more than 176,000 veterans have applied for PACT Act-related benefits.
For more information about the PACT Act and how to file a claim, visit va.gov/PACT.
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