What is the PACT Act and How Might Gulf War Era Veterans Qualify for Benefits?

The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act is otherwise known as the PACT Act and was signed into law on August 10, 2022.[1] The PACT Act honors an Ohio veteran who died of lung cancer in 2020 which was attributed to toxic smoke exposure from burning trash pits during his combat deployment to Iraq.[2]  This legislation follows a May 2021 announcement by the Secretary of the VA that they were concluding “the first iteration of a newly formed internal VA process to review scientific evidence to support rulemaking, resulting in the recommendation to consider creation of new presumptions of service connection for respiratory conditions” that relied on relevant and reliable scientific evidence.

The ACT covers 23 respiratory illnesses and cancers that are connected to burn pit exposure or such pollutants more generally, and it creates presumptions to allow veterans easier access to benefits and routine health screenings.[3]  As always, these conditions are available to veterans through normal service-connected disability claims whereby you must show 1) current diagnosis, (2) an in-service stressor, event, or diagnosis, and a (3) nexus between in service diagnosis and the current condition.[4] However, presumptions are intended to make it less burdensome to claim and require the veteran to show only current diagnosis, and qualifying location and time of service. The law, like other presumptions such as radiation and agent orange exposure[5], assumes the nexus element based on the veteran’s location and time of service.

The law is broad and does not require direct burn pit experience. It also covers the airspace over these during the specified periods.  While not explicit, we assume that Navy and Air Force veterans will be eligible based on port calls and overflight of the countries listed for the times covered.

To research eligibility, the veteran needs to consider their dates of service and locations of service to determine if they would qualify. Below, we outline the Act based on the veteran’s where and when of service, and then what cancers and types of illnesses are covered in the Act.

Presumptive exposure to Toxic Chemicals – Where and When did you Serve?

On or after August 2, 1990 in any of these locations:

  • Bahrain
  • Iraq
  • Kuwait
  • Oman
  • Qatar
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Somalia
  • The United Arab Emirates (UAE)
  • The airspace above any of these locations

On or after September 11, 2001, in any of these locations:

  • Afghanistan
  • Djibouti
  • Egypt
  • Jordan
  • Lebanon
  • Syria
  • Uzbekistan
  • Yemen
  • The airspace above any of these locations.

What is you Current Diagnosis? – Presumptive Cancers

  • Brain Cancer
  • Gastrointestinal cancer of any type
  • Glioblastoma
  • Head Cancer of any type
  • Kidney cancer
  • Lymphatic cancer of any type
  • Lymphoma of any type
  • Melanoma
  • Neck cancer of any type
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Reproductive cancer of any type
  • Respiratory (breathing-related) cancer of any type

What Diagnosed Illnesses do you Have? – Presumptive illnesses:

  • Asthma that was diagnosed after service
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Chronic rhinitis
  • Chronic sinusitis
  • Constructive bronchiolitis or obliterative bronchiolitis
  • Emphysema
  • Granulomatous disease
  • Interstitial lung disease (ILD)
  • Pleuritis
  • Pulmonary fibrosis
  • Sarcoidosis[6]

The VA has said they will not begin processing these claims or appeals until January 2023. However, Veterans are advised to begin making claims or filing for appeals of existing claims under the Act beginning August 10, 2022 when the Act was signed.

[1] Biden signs bill to aid veterans exposed to toxins from burn pits, Washington Post:

[2] Ohio man remembered as Biden bill to help veterans exposed to toxic burn pits, The Columbia Dispatch:

[3] The PACT Act and your VA Benefits:

[4] 38 CFR § 3.303 – Principles relating to service connection.

[5] For example, See 38 CFR § 3.307

[6] The PACT Act and your VA Benefits:

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