Dear American Legion Family members and friends,
The American Legion fought relentlessly to see the PACT Act passed and signed into law in the last Congress. Since then, more than 500,000 veterans have filed for VA disability benefits that were previously, and wrongly, denied.
That may seem like a lot in a short period of time. The truth is, time may already be running out for some veterans who are now eligible. The deadline for veterans of two major categories to file for PACT Act VA health-care service is Oct. 1, 2023. That’s six months from now. Other categories have later deadlines, but the application window is not going to open any wider than it is now.
Also, those who apply for disability benefits before Aug. 10, 2023, will have them backdated to Aug. 10, 2022.
Some 3.5 million post-9/11 veterans immediately became eligible through the PACT Act for service-connected disability benefits and health care for conditions related to their exposure to toxic burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. About 52,000 Vietnam War veterans who were exposed to the poisonous defoliant Agent Orange in previously unrecognized locations were finally given a dose of justice. Veterans who suffered from cancers caused by atomic radiation, and others who served at a contaminated air base in Uzbekistan, are now eligible to seek relief from their diseases by filing claims. The only way to achieve any benefits, care or justice is to file an application.
Accredited American Legion service officers have been working day and night to assist these long-ignored veterans with their PACT Act claims. VA added no fewer than 23 cancers and respiratory illnesses to the list of conditions presumed to have been connected to military service and caused by toxic exposure.
By the end of 2022, American Legion service officers had secured more than $16.3 billion in VA benefits for disabled veterans for the year, up nearly $2 billion from 2021. The PACT Act (Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022) undoubtedly contributed to that increase, which can be expected to continue.
If you are unsure about your eligibility – some veterans exposed to burn-pit toxins think they are too young for VA care or benefits – I strongly urge you to locate a Legion service officer and investigate before important deadlines come and go.
Florida Legionnaire Susan Kohler put the need for urgency, especially among younger veterans, this way: “Don’t wait until you’re 80 and then try to file a claim for an injury that’s more difficult to demonstrate that happened while you were in the service.”
That’s great advice. I know more than a few veterans who have tried to file for disability benefits long after they could have or should have, only to get hung up in the burden of proof, which doesn’t get lighter as the years go by.
Vincent J. “Jim” Troiola