The first article in this series on the PACT Act, published Sept. 8, introduced readers to what the PACT Act is, explained what positive changes this new law brings to veterans and their family members, and gave the online resources (Uniform Resource Locators) where veterans and their family members can read about and file for PACT Act benefits. It also gave a list of 18 questions that this series of articles will answer on the PACT Act.
The second article answered the questions:
What does it mean to have a presumptive condition for toxic exposure?
What are the Gulf War era and post-9/11 Veteran eligibility requirements?
How veterans can file a claim for presumptive conditions?
This third article covers Vietnam-era veteran eligibility, the new Agent Orange presumptive conditions and locations the VA has added, the new radiation presumptive locations the VA has added, information on getting VA benefits, and more.
Vietnam-era Veteran eligibility and Agent Orange presumptive locations added as a result of the PACT Act
Based on the PACT Act and the information at https://bit.ly/3ARbVrn, the VA added two new Agent Orange presumptive conditions: High blood pressure (hypertension) and Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS). If you are a veteran and you believe you are eligible for VA health care and benefits, the VA encourages you to apply now.
What new Agent Orange presumptive locations have been added as a result of the PACT Act?
The VA has added these five new locations to the list of presumptive locations:
- Any U.S. or Royal Thai military base in Thailand from Jan. 9, 1962, through June 30, 1976.
- Laos from Dec. 1, 1965, through Sept. 30, 1969.
- Cambodia at Mimot or Krek, Kampong Cham Province from April 16, 1969, through April 30, 1969.
- Guam or American Samoa or in the territorial waters off of Guam or American Samoa from Jan. 9, 1962, through July 30, 1980.
- Johnston Atoll or on a ship that called at Johnston Atoll from Jan. 1, 1972, through Sept. 30, 1977.
If a veteran served on active duty in any of these locations, the VA presumes that the Veteran had exposure to Agent Orange.
What new radiation presumptive locations have the VA added as a result of the PACT Act?
The VA added these three new response efforts to the list of presumptive locations: (1) Cleanup of Enewetak Atoll, from Jan. 1, 1977, through Dec. 31, 1980. (2) Cleanup of the Air Force B-52 bomber carrying nuclear weapons off the coast of Palomares, Spain, from Jan. 17, 1966, through March 31, 1967. And (3) Response to the fire onboard an Air Force B-52 bomber carrying nuclear weapons near Thule Air Force Base in Greenland from Jan. 21, 1968, to Sept. 25, 1968.
If you are a veteran and you took part in any of these efforts, the VA presumes that you had exposure to radiation.
Things veterans should know about getting PACT Act disability claims.
How can veterans file a disability claim?
Gulf War and post-9/11 veterans and Vietnam War veterans can file a claim based on your PACT Act and a presumptive condition (or any other eligibility):
Online: Go online to https://bit.ly/3wYGMRJ and file your disability claim.
By mail: File your claim by mail using an Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits (VA Form 21- 526EZ). Download the form at https://bit.ly/3xtZZLp. Print the form, fill it out, and send it to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Claims Intake Center, PO Box 4444, Janesville, Wis. 53547-4444.
In-person: Bring your application to a VA regional office near you. You can find a VA Regional Office near you at https://bit.ly/3BpjKET. The nearest VA Regional Office Headquarters to the coastal S.C. counties is the Columbia Regional Office, located at 6437 Garners Ferry Road, Columbia, S.C. 29209. The Columbia office phone number is 803-647-2488 and the email address is VetAsst. VBACMS@va.gov.
Regional offices also have satellite offices: Here are VBA satellite offices in the footprint of The Island News: (1) Savannah, Ga. Veteran Center is 39.1 miles from Beaufort. It is located at the Savannah Vet Center, 321 Commercial Drive, Savannah, Ga. 31406. Phone number 912-961-5800 and (2) Charleston, S.C. Vet Center is 47.7 miles from Beaufort. It is located at 3625 West Montague Avenue, North Charleston, S.C. 29418. Phone number 843-789-7000.
Who can help a veteran file a disability claim with the VA?
(1) Work with an accredited Veteran Service Organization (VSO) or a VA-certified Attorney or Claims Agent. Find a VSO at https://bit.ly/3eXpwpO or (2) Call myVA411 at 800-698- 2411 and talk to a VA staff member or (3) Go to a VA regional office and have a VA employee assist you.
How can a veteran find accredited claims assistance?
You can find an accredited representative (VSO, Attorney, or Agent) in one of two ways:
(1) Go online to eBenefits at https://bit.ly/3eXpwpO to find a local representative by state/territory, zip code, or the organization’s name. Or (2) Search the VA Office of the General Counsel’s list at https://bit.ly/3QnCk5M to find VA-recognized organizations and VA-accredited individuals by name, city, state, or zip code. There is also a County Veterans Assistance Office serving each county of S.C. You can find the contact information at https://bit. ly/3qbLVSL.
What if the VA denies a veteran’s claim but now considers his or her condition presumptive?
The VA encourages veterans to file a Supplemental Claim. When the VA receives a Supplemental Claim, the VA will review the claim again. Find the directions for filing a supplemental claim at https://bit.ly/3cT4sQM. If the VA denied a veteran’s claim in the past and the VA believes that the veteran may be eligible now, the VA will try to contact the veteran. Veterans should not wait for the VA to contact them before he or she files a Supplemental Claim.
What if a veteran has a pending claim for a condition that’s now presumptive?
Veterans do not need to do anything. If the VA added the veteran’s condition after the veteran filed their claim, the VA still considers the condition presumptive.
Can a veteran file a PACT Act presumptive claim now?
Yes. The VA is considering all presumptive conditions established by the PACT Act presumptive on the date the bill became law. If a veteran thinks he or she may be eligible for VA health care or benefits, the VA encourages you to apply now.
When can a veteran expect the VA to make a decision on his or her PACT Act claim?
The VA encourages all veterans and survivors to file for benefits now. The VA will start to process PACT Act-related benefits in January 2023. The VA must wait for funding approval from Congress and put the needed systems in place before the VA can process these claims.
If a veteran applies for benefits at any time in the next year and the VA grants the veteran’s application, the VA will likely backdate the veteran’s benefits to the date of the bill signing. This means the VA will pay the veteran the amount he or she would have received from Aug. 10, 2022, to the date the VA grants your application.
Continued next week.
Larry Dandridge is a Vietnam War wounded warrior, disabled veteran, ex-Enlisted Infantryman, ex-Warrant Officer Pilot, and retired Lt. Colonel. He is a past Veterans Service Officer, a Patient Adviser at the RHJ VA Hospital, the Fisher House Charleston Good Will Ambassador, and the VP for Veteran Affairs for the local Army Association Chapter. Larry is the author of the award-winning book Blades of Thunder and a contributing free-lance writer with the Island News. Contact him at LDandridge@earthlink.net or 843-276-7164.