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Veterans Corner: Date Nears For Vets to Place PACT ACT Claim

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By Dorothy Meindok

The Post Newspaper Veterans Consultant

A last-minute reminder to get in your PACT ACT claims or at least secure your effective date! The deadline to be sure that your claimed benefit is awarded is the youngest claim date affording the most back pay. Be sure to get your claim in no later than August 09, 2023.

What if you aren’t ready to actually submit a claim? No worries, the Veterans Administration has said (and I called and verified this with their 1-800-827-1000 representatives) that you simply must call them at the above 800 number and let them know by filing an “Intent to File a PACT Act claim”. It can be done in just a few minutes once you get past the sometimes-long telephone “hold”. The VA will do it right there on the phone and then send you a letter documenting the day you called and allowing you a year from that date to then submit the claim; and if you do this by August 09, 2023, and are awarded that claim you will be paid back to the day President Biden signed the PACT Act into law.

That’s another thing to remember folks – the PACT Act is codified law now. It is federal law. That means these published deadlines do not mean the ability to file a claim in the future is diminished. The push for getting them in now is to take advantage of the backpay, I see it as a thank you of sorts and an attempt at recompense because it took so long to officially recognize the toxic exposures military personnel have faced outside of Agent Orange. The PACT Act mirrors the Agent Orange Act and expands its reach in great ways which brings me to my next share which is that the PACT ACT does NOT only cover “burn pits”.

That appears to be absolute “scuttlebutt” circling and it makes me sad because I have heard that some of these “law firms” and “high dollar advocates” who have no problems taking large chunks of a veteran’s award are actually turning veterans away or discouraging them from applying for PACT Act due to toxic exposures because the veteran didn’t serve post-9/11 and were not exposed to burn pits. It is just evidence that these persons are not up to date on the current laws, have not read the laws and likely only paid attention to the “summary” version of the landmark legislation equal to the sound bites on a social media feed. If you have this kind of person “working” for you (and up to 50% to 60% of your possible award, that might be a clue where their heart is and where their intentions begin, be careful out there. Be sure to read, approve and sign everything that a person like this enters into your federal record because if they don’t know the basics of the largest body of law to pass in favor of disabled veterans in decades, what else do they not know?)

The PACT Act expands healthcare and compensation availability to veterans exposed to toxic exposures while on active duty. “Presumptions” or the presumptive list of disabilities that specified in the Act are the list of ailments and diseases that the federal government in working with medical researchers have determined are without a doubt connected to the various toxic exposures. The law is broken into parts by specific duty stations to make it easier to reference and match up the place served to the known exposures and which “presumptions” absolutely apply for someone that served in that location. A presumption simply supplies the veteran with an automatic nexus in the claims process eliminating the chore of having to further prove that the toxic exposure caused the given illness.

However, outside of the presumptive list, toxic exposures are known and recognized (not presumptively) to exist for certain MOS or ratings, certain areas of service such as places known to be radioactive or certain jobs exposed to jet fuels, etc….. PACT Act has helped raise awareness, recognition and lessened the reigns and evidentiary demands for these kinds of claims too, both in healthcare & compensation. The law is quite broad and profound, recognizing toxic exposures of our military heroes in their everyday duty.

This body of law is in its infancy stages. As the year has passed, since August 2022, over 20 plus more diseases have been added to the automatically covered “presumptive” list. Just like the PACT Act’s predecessor in law, the Agent Orange Act, as the body of law grows and expands, and as medical science and research has more time to investigate the various effects of exposures and its impact on the biological system of our warriors the revelations will add more and more covered conditions to the “presumptive” list. But remember you can still be service connected outside of the presumptive list for toxic exposures.

Don’t let anyone settle the matter for you and VA – if you think you have a claim, put it in. There was a time that VA and the American Medical Association didn’t understand Gulf War Illness, Fibromyalgia, or the correlation of the impact of Agent Orange on the cardiovascular system – they do today, because veterans put in claims and enrolled in health care prompting medical research and recognition. Only the VA can say no, not a VSO, VSA or a lawyer – at best they can predict your odds of current success but only the VA can say yes, or no. One thing is certain – the answer will always be no, if you fail to apply. 

Here are some helpful numbers to help you do that:

Veterans Administration Benefits Hotline: 1-800-827-1000 – call here to put in your “Intent to File a Claim” or find direct answers to your questions. Monday -Friday 0800 to 2100 hours ET. For TTY dial 711.

Veterans Health Benefits Hotline: 1-877-222-8387 Monday- Friday 0800 to 2000 hours, ET. For TTY dial 711.  (You can call here to help in setting up a toxic exposure screening.)

Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center Houston – 713-791-1414, press 0 and let the operators know what you need, and they’ll get you to the right department. Be sure to say thank you to them, they answer, assist and route literally thousands of calls every week

 Dorothy Meindok is The Post Newspaper’s Veterans Consultant. Ms. Meindok served her nation in the United States Navy and is currently a practicing lawyer advocating for our nation’s veterans. Her column appears on Sundays.

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