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As you've likely either heard or read by now, the Senate finally passed a long-overdue bill for the expansion of Veteran's health care resources and benefits as well as aiding Veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxins by adding additional presumptive conditions for disability compensation purposes. The Bill itself is an intimidating 150 pages of ackamarackus so allow me to cut to the chase and break down the really good stuff.

A VA "Presumptive" condition is basically a medical condition that the VA acknowledges; yes, that was definitely caused by service and/or exposure. For instance, the VA acknowledges that exposure to Agent Orange, an herbicide utilized in Vietnam, bladder cancer; prostate cancer; chronic B-cell leukemia; Hodgkin's disease; multiple myeloma; non-Hodgkin's lymphoma; respiratory cancers (lungs, larynx, trachea and bronchus); some soft tissue sarcomas; ischemic heart disease/coronary artery disease; diabetes mellitus type II; hypothyroidism; as well as a variety of other conditions. What makes it "presumptive", is that all you need is the confirmed exposure (proof of boots on the ground) and the diagnosis and treatment from your doctor, the rest is conceded by the Department of Veteran Affairs.

The new PACT Act adds a slew of presumptive medical conditions for our Gulf War Veterans. Covered Veterans include anyone who served on active duty on or after August 2, 1990, in Bahrain; Iraq; Kuwait; Oman; Qatar; Saudi Arabia; Somalia; or the United Arab Emirates; or anyone who served on active duty on or after September 11, 2001, in Afghanistan; Djibouti, Jordan, Lebanon Syria; or Yemen. The new presumptive conditions and effective dates are as follows:

- Head cancer of any type (1OCT2024)

- Neck cancer of any type (1OCT2024)

- Respiratory cancer of any type (PACT Act date)

- Gastrointestinal cancer of any type (1OCT2024)

- Reproductive cancer of any type (1OCT2024)

- Lymphoma cancer of any type (1OCT2024)

- Lymphatic cancer of any type (1OCT2024)

- Kidney cancer (1OCT2025)

- Brain cancer (PACT Act date)

- Melanoma (1OCT2025)

- Pancreatic Cancer (1OCT2024)

- Chronic bronchitis (1OCT2023)

- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (1OCT2023)

- Constrictive bronchiolitis or obliterative bronchiolitis (PACT Act date)

- Emphysema (PACT Act date)

- Granulomatous disease (PACT Act date)

- Interstitial lung disease (PACT Act date)

- Pleuritis (PACT Act date)

- Pulmonary fibrosis (PACT Act date)

- Sarcoidosis (PACT Act date)

- Glioblastoma (PACT Act date)

- Chronic sinusitis (PACT Act date)

*this was already a presumptive condition but it removes the 10-year limitation

- it can be diagnosed even after 10 years from separation now (it had to be within 10 years before this).

- Chronic rhinitis (PACT Act date)

*this was already a presumptive condition but it removes the 10 year limitation

- it can be diagnosed even after 10 years from separation now (it had to be within 10 years before this).

- Asthma (PACT Act date)

*this was already a presumptive condition but it removes the 10 year limitation

- it can be diagnosed even after 10 years from separation now (it had to be within 10 years before this).

Moving on to new benefits for our Vietnam Veterans; two new presumptive conditions have been added to the list and the first is a huge one; HYPERTENSION. The effective date has been broken up into two parts; 1. PACT Act date for DIC claims and for vets who are terminally ill; homeless; under extreme financial hardship; more than 85 years old; or capable of demonstrating other "sufficient cause" and 2. on October 1, 2026, for everyone not described above.

The second new condition added is monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance. The effective date has again been broken up into two parts; 1. PACT Act date for DIC claims and for vets who are terminally ill; homeless; under extreme financial hardship; more than 85 years old; or capable of demonstrating other "sufficient cause" and 2. on October 1, 2022, for everyone not described above.

Alright; some of you may be wondering, what's with the dates? Good question, I'm wondering that too. Here's what I know; the PACT Act itself lists these dates with those conditions. The VA website states the following: "Can I apply now? Yes. We're considering all presumptive conditions established by the PACT Act presumptive on the date the bill becomes law. If you think you may be eligible for VA health care or benefits, we encourage you to apply now."

Other County Directors from across the state and I are awaiting further guidance from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bottom line is I want you to file your claim now. Is there a chance the claim will sit and the VA won't actually process it until that date, unfortunately, yes; there's a chance. Is there a chance the VA may just process them all now? Yep. I'm awaiting word and as soon as I know my Vets will know too. In the meantime, it's business as usual; I'm filing those claims.

Additionally, this Act finally adds areas of "covered service" where the VA will finally concede exposure to Agent Orange. Rather than just the Republic of Vietnam and within 12 nautical miles in the waters surrounding, the list now includes all of the below areas:

- Service in The Republic of Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975;

- Service in Thailand at any United States or Royal Thai base between January 9, 1962, and June 30, 1976, (no longer just the perimeter!);

- Service in Laos between December 1, 1965, and September 30, 1969;

- Service in Cambodia at Mimot or Krek, Kampong Cham Province between April 16, 1969, and April 30, 1969;

- Service in Guam or American Samoa, or in the territorial waters thereof, between January 9, 1962, and July 31, 1980

- Service on Johnston Atoll or on a ship called at Johnston Atoll between January 1, 1972, and September 30, 1977.

Lastly, the new Act expands VA healthcare eligibility for Veterans. If you served in a theater of combat operations during a period of war after the Persian Gulf War or you served in combat against a hostile force during a period of hostiles after November 11, 1998, and you were discharged on or after October 1, 2013, then you can get free VA health care for any condition related to your service for up to 10 years from the date of your most recent discharge. You can also enroll at any time during this period to get any care you need but there may be copays for some care.

If you were discharged before October 1, 2013, you can still receive care during a special enrollment period between October 1, 2022, and October 1, 2023. At least one of these must be true of your active duty service: you either served in a theater of combat operations during a period of war after the Persian Gulf War or you served in combat against a hostile force during a period of hostiles after November 11, 1998, and both of these must be true as well to qualify for the special enrollment period: you were discharged between September 11, 2001, and October 1, 2013, and you've never enrolled in VA healthcare before.

Side note (since I'm on the subject), Vietnam Veterans already automatically qualify for VA healthcare. In fact, there are numerous other qualifying eligibility factors to be considered when applying so your best bet is always going to be to call me, or another accredited service officer, and let us walk you through the healthcare application process.

Whew, that's a lot to take in folks! I'm so excited to share this news with you! To bring this to a quick close let me end by saying; I'm here and I'm happy to help. Please call the Benton County Veterans Affairs Office at (319) 472-3150 or email me at va@bentoncountyia.gov

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