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VA accepting applications from military personnel exposed to burn pits

Mann-Grandstaff VAMC
Courtesy of Veterans Administration
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The PACT Act expands the number of veterans eligible for federally-subsidized health care.

Veterans who believe they’re sick because they were exposed to toxic burn pits during their military service are now eligible for federal health care benefits.

The Veterans Administration is accepting claims under the PACT Act, for Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics, Act.

“The PACT Act is probably one of the most historic pieces of legislation signed affecting veterans’ benefits and health care in terms of how expansive it is," said Pritz Navaratnasingam, the regional director for the Veterans Benefits Administration.

The new law provides coverage for all veterans, but especially those who served in the Gulf War and post-9/11. It allows men and women with about 20 different medical maladies, including several types of cancer, to apply for federally-subsidized health care.

“Before the Pact Act, you could file claims for any of those conditions, but you would have to prove that that condition that you have now was because of your service. Now, we presume that it’s because of service and the evidentiary standard is lowered dramatically," Navaratnasingam said.

He says the VA expects millions of veterans, including more than 600,000 in Washington, to be eligible for health care benefits.

Dr. Evan Krasner, the chief of primary care for veterans at Spokane’s Mann-Grandstaff Medical Center, says veterans, whether they file a claim or not, will receive toxic exposure screenings.

“We will ask them if they have any known exposures during their military service and, if so, then we look at some of the possible presumptive conditions that go along with that," he said. "We look at their medical history and just see if there’s something that we overlooked. Military toxic exposure is something that is always in the clinical mix with veterans.”

The Veterans Benefits Administration is opening a new office in Spokane to advise people interested in filing claims. It expects to hire about 50 people to work with veterans and help them prepare and file their claims.

The agency is now accepting claims applications. It will begin examining them in January. The goal is to let applicants know within four months whether or not they will receive benefits.