More military veterans get medical help with passage of PACT Act

The PACT Act has expanded services for military veterans exposed to toxic chemicals and has resulted in a surge of patients enrolling in VA health care services.
Published: Feb. 6, 2023 at 6:30 PM EST
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - After serving and protecting the country, more military veterans are getting the medical help they need as a result of being exposed to toxic chemicals. Veteran Affairs (VA) officials said they are seeing a surge in patients enrolling in health care services.

Since the PACT Act passed in August, roughly 21,000 more veterans have signed up for VA Medical Services. The PACT Act expands service to military women who were exposed to chemicals like agent orange or toxic burn pits while serving overseas in wars like Iraq and Afghanistan. The new laws means more vets can get the medical help they need.

“When we initially started this there was only 1,800 Michigan Veterans who signed up for the Airborne Hazard and Open-air Burn Pit Registry. Now Michigan has over 5,600 Veterans that are signed up for that registry,” said Kevin Hensley, National Legislative committee member for the state of Michigan through the VFW. “Actually I couldn’t be happier to be honest with you. I’ve told people before we’d rather be waiting in line than to be waiting on the other side of the fence if you know what I mean.”

Hensley said military veterans, like him, inhaled toxic chemicals 24 hours per day, 7 days per week in Iraq – he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Before the PACT Act passed, Hensley said his condition was not recognized by the VA.

“Therefore, if I passed away and it was due to my condition, my wife and my kids would not be receiving benefits because it was not service-connected,” Hensley said.

Hensley said anything from lead paint, medical waste, and even body parts could be found in a burn pit.

“And then here I am worrying about whether or not my family is going to be taken care of if something happens to me. It’s a huge stress relief off of myself if anything does happen,” said Hensley.

Veteran Service Officers at the American Legion said more people are now eligible for disabilities than before. It’s causing more veterans and their families to start enrolling in VA Health Care.

“It’s expanded the eligibility. There are more disabilities that are considered presumptive, which means are assumed to have been caused by service,” said Rebecca Lewis, Veteran Service Officer at the American Legion.

VA officials have a goal of adding around 52,000 new staff members to help with the increased enrollment process, as more veterans become eligible for disabilities.

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