It Is Estimated That 3.5 Million Individuals May Be Eligible To Claim New Health Care Benefits
Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Interim Medical Center Director of VA Syracuse Healthcare System Michael DelDuca, Village of Lansing Mayor Ronny Hardaway, Assemblymember Dr. Anna Kelles, Chair of the Tompkins County Legislature Shawna Black, Tompkins County Legislator Deborah Dawson, and Michael Moran, Secretary of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter #377, visited the Tompkins County VA Clinic to highlight the implementation of the recently passed Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022. Passed in 2022, the PACT Act included Gillibrand’s signature legislation to establish a presumptive service connection to certain illnesses for service members and veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxins, eliminating many obstacles they have to go through to receive crucial health care and benefits. It is estimated that roughly 3.5 million military personnel could have been exposed to burn pits and are eligible to receive benefits.
During her visit, Gillibrand and staff members helped veterans exposed to burn pits learn how they can access and apply for these new benefits.
“When the PACT Act was signed into law, it created one of the most significant benefits expansions in VA history,” said Senator Gillibrand.“Today, I’m visiting the Tompkins County VA Clinic to ensure our vets across Tompkins County have the information and assistance needed to take full advantage of these new health care and disability benefits. I fought tooth and nail to secure these benefits and now my office is here to help make the implementation process of the PACT Act as smooth as possible.”
“Through Senator Gillibrand’s diligence and the passage of the federal PACT Act, our country expanded significantly the quality of healthcare and benefits for our multi-generational veterans and their survivors,” said Ronny Hardaway, Village of Lansing Mayor. “Our Village and the new Tompkins County VA Outpatient Clinic are extremely proud to support the PACT Act and to serve these veterans and their families through this state-of-the-art facility and its exceptional staff.”
“The PACT Act is an historic new law that expands VA health care and benefits for Veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances. We appreciate everything Senator Gillibrand has done to enact this law to ensure our Veterans – and their survivors – get the care and benefits they’ve earned and deserve,” Michael DelDuca, Interim Syracuse VA Medical Center Director said. “We are aggressively reaching out to our Veterans throughout our 13 County area of responsibility through multiple events and Town Halls to ensure they are able to receive these benefits.”
“Thank you to Senator Gillibrand for keeping the needs of our veterans at the forefront. Her work to call attention to, and expand the list of, presumptive conditions leading to passage of the PACT Act will be appreciated by our veterans who get approved for service-connected disabilities,” said J.R. Clairborne, Tompkins County Department of Veterans Services Director. “Providing this pathway to VA healthcare and other benefits can make a significant difference for many of our veterans who are dealing with ill effects brought back from the battle fields. Saying ‘thank you’ for such a landmark achievement feels like an understatement, but the thanks for our veterans community is heartfelt.”
“The passage of the PACT Act in 2022, including Senator Gillibrand’s crucial legislation, was a significant step towards supporting our brave service members and veterans,” said Senator Lea Webb, 52nd District. “By establishing a presumptive service connection to certain illnesses for those exposed to burn pits and other toxins, we have eliminated many obstacles they face in accessing the crucial health care and benefits they deserve. This landmark legislation serves as a testament to our commitment to those who have served our country with honor and dedication.”
“Far too often, our country’s service members return from their service with painful reminders of their sacrifices, whether physical or mental. With the PACT Act, veterans in Tompkins County who were exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances, will now be eligible for critical health care services and treatment,” said Assemblymember Dr. Anna Kelles, 125th District. “I appreciate Senator Gillibrand’s commitment to our nation’s veterans, and efforts to help them secure the benefits they’ve earned.”
Applying for Benefits FAQ
- How can I submit a claim?: Eligible veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic substances can submit a claim at VA.gov/PACT.
- What if I was previously denied?: The PACT Act expanded eligibility for VA health care and benefits, so even if you were previously denied coverage, you may now be eligible. Submit a supplemental claim to get the health care and benefits you deserve at VA.gov/PACT.
- Who is covered under the new law?:
- Veterans who served in Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, or the UAE on or after Aug. 2, 1990
- Veterans who served in Afghanistan, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, or Uzbekistan on or after Sept. 11, 2001
- What illnesses are covered?: A wide range of cancers and respiratory illnesses are covered, including: asthma diagnosed after service, head cancer of any type, neck cancer of any type, respiratory cancer of any type, gastrointestinal cancer of any type, reproductive cancer of any type, lymphoma cancer of any type, lymphomatic cancer of any type, kidney cancer, brain cancer, melanoma, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, constrictive bronchiolitis or obliterative bronchiolitis, emphysema, granulomatous disease, interstitial lung disease, pleuritis, pulmonary fibrosis, sarcoidosis, pancreatic cancer, chronic sinusitis, chronic rhinitis, and glioblastoma.
- What benefits can I expect to be covered?: Just like the Vietnam veterans who fell ill from their exposure to Agent Orange, under this law, anyone deployed to one of the 16 identified countries during the Gulf War and Global War on Terror (listed above) who falls ill with one of the listed conditions will be able to go to the VA and get a disability rating. Depending on the rating, the veteran may be eligible for disability compensation. They are also entitled to free VA health care for their illness.
- What if I have additional questions?:
- Schedule an appointment with a VA benefits specialist: vets.force.com/VAVERA
- Speak to a VA benefits specialist by calling: 1-800-MyVA411 (1-800-698-2411)
- New Yorkers who need assistance securing their health care and benefits can contact: https://www.gillibrand.senate.gov/help/help-for-new-yorkers/
Senator Gillibrand first introduced her bill, the Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act, in September 2020, alongside a bicameral group that included Representative Raul Ruiz (D-CA), comedian Jon Stewart, activist John Feal, and a strong coalition of veterans service organizations. The group introduced an updated, bipartisan version in the spring of 2021 with Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA). In May 2022, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester and Ranking Member Jerry Moran announced a bipartisan deal on toxic exposure legislation, the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act. Gillibrand’s Presumptive Benefits bill formed the cornerstone of the presumptive care section of the final package. The final bill passed the Senate by a vote of 86-11 and was signed into law by President Biden on August 10th, 2022.