WASHINGTON, DC -- A 2022 law that U.S. Senator Jack Reed helped pass is helping record numbers of veterans who were exposed to burn pits or other toxins during their military service get key health benefits.

Today, President Biden, who signed the PACT Act into law, announced that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has approved 1 million claims from service members affected by illnesses associated with toxic exposures at military sites.  As a result, about $5.7 billion in benefits and compensation has been granted for veterans exposed to various toxic substances during their service, including from burn pits and Agent Orange exposure.

“It took far too long to get the PACT done and Republicans dragged their feet, but President Biden made it his mission to improve healthcare access and funding for our veterans.  And he continues taking action to ensure every veteran gets first-rate care and the benefits they earned.  Getting the PACT Act implemented was a major lift and reaching this one million milestone so quickly underscores both the urgent need and scope of the ongoing challenge.  We have to keep at it.  I commend the President, VA Secretary McDonough, and the hardworking staff at the VA for prioritizing our veterans and ensuring toxic-exposed veterans get the lifesaving care they deserve,” said Senator Reed, who noted that 2,315 Rhode Islanders have already had their PACT Act claims granted.  Reed also estimated that as many as 37,000 veterans across Rhode Island could benefit as a result of the PACT Act.

The PACT Act (PACT stands for Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics) made it easier for veterans to file claims by presuming that veterans who develop certain medical conditions because they came into contact with dangerous chemicals and toxins during their service, which eases the burden of proof for those seeking benefits and medical care.  It also extended these easier claim filing services for the first time to the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and the post-9/11 war on terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq.  As a result, as many as one in five veterans could be eligible for disability or health care benefits.

The PACT Act covers over 20 presumptive illnesses (including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, a dozen types of cancer, interstitial lung disease (ILD), and hypertension) from exposure to burn pits, Agent Orange and other toxins, radiation, oil well fires, depleted uranium, and more. 

To help more veterans access and understand PACT Act benefits, the VA set up a special, dedicated website.

Rhode Islanders who have questions about eligibility for PACT Act benefits may contact Senator Reed’s office at (401) 528-5200 or call the VA’s hotline at: 800-698-2411 (800-MYVA411).