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VA: 113,000 new burn pit claims

Urges veterans to submit claims quickly

Marines dispose of trash in a burn pit in the Khan Neshin District of Afghanistan on March 4, 2012. Photo credit: Cpl. Alfred V. Lopez, Marine Corps

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The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that 112,949 claims by veterans have been filed as of Oct. 22 under the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022, or PACT Act. 

The new law expands the eligibility for health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxins, VA officials said last week.

The agency has for years contended that there was not enough evidence to support the claims made by veterans who served near open-air burn pits, which were used throughout the 1990s and in Iraq and Afghanistan to burn garbage, jet fuel and other materials.

Now, the PACT Act provides health care and benefits for veterans who served near open-air burn pits. Those diagnosed with cancer, respiratory issues and lung disease at young ages have blamed exposure to the toxic fumes from these pits.

"We want to make sure veterans know about this and take full advantage of the benefits that they've earned," Joshua Jacobs, the VA's senior adviser for policy and acting Veterans Benefits Administration undersecretary, said during the agency's monthly news conference last week.

He added that veterans should submit their claims before next August in order for them to claim their benefits from the day the PACT Act became law (Aug. 10, 2022) in order to receive any back pay. After Aug. 10, 2023, the PACT Act service-connection benefits will begin when they are filed.

The VA has said that all 23 health conditions outlined in the PACT Act are "presumptive" from the date the bill was signed. This means that the burden on the veterans and their survivors to prove that certain diseases were caused by service-related exposure to toxins and burn pits has been reduced.

The expanded list not only includes presumptions related to burn pits, it also covers claims related to Agent Orange exposure in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Guam, American Samoa, and the Johnson Atoll. 

Jacobs said that the decision will deliver more benefits to veterans faster, rather than a phased-in approach. "It would make it harder for us to do the work that we need to for other veterans and it would be, most importantly, very frustrating for veterans who had to wait.".

VA Secretary Denis McDonough added during the agency's news conference that the VA will begin toxic screenings on Nov. 8 for all veterans currently enrolled in the VA system.

"The best thing for vets to do is to be in touch with their primary care provider and make sure that they're getting in to be seen, and in the process of being seen, that they can make sure that they get this toxic exposure screening," McDonough said.

The law honors Sgt. 1st Class Heath Robinson who died in 2020 after exposure to burn pits in Kosovo and Iraq while serving with the Army National Guard.

All veterans and survivors can go to or call 1-800-MYVA411 to learn more about what the PACT Act means for them.

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