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The VA has granted 1 million claims tied to burn pits. Some vets are still waiting.

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The Department of Veterans Affairs has provided more than $5.7 billion to vets under the PACT Act. Veterans fought for years for assistance.

Veterans who fought and demanded coverage for health problems related to burn pits have reached an important milestone.

Image: U.S. Senate

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, sponsored the PACT Act, which helped veterans get coverage for cancer and health issues related to exposure to burn pits.

The Department of Veterans Affairs said last week that it has now granted more than 1 million claims due to exposure to burn pits. President Biden signed the PACT Act in 2022 authorizing benefits for those who suffered health issues related to burn pits.

The VA says it has provided more than $5.7 billion to veterans and survivors. The agency says it has approved 75% of claims, which surpasses the approval rate before the passage of the law.

Biden hailed the milestone of 1 million claims in a speech in Nashua, New Hampshire last week.

“You’ve suffered long enough,” Biden said. “You shouldn’t have to prove that your illness came from the service. But thanks to the PACT Act, you don’t have to prove it now.”

Biden championed the legislation in part due to the death of his son, Beau, who died of cancer. The president cited his son’s death in his speech in New Hampshire, and Biden has said he suspects his death is tied to exposure to burn pits while he served in Iraq.

The military routinely used burn pits to dispose of chemicals, plastic, and other waste in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries, as the Associated Press reports. But before Biden signed the PACT Act in 2022, the VA denied 70% of disability claims tied to burn pits, the AP reported.

Veterans described cancers and other serious health issues tied to burn pits and pleaded with the VA and Congress for help for years. The military estimates that as many as 3.5 million service members were exposed and potentially harmed by burn pits.

The VA has processed claims for more than 18,000 survivors, according to the department’s dashboard.

Still, advocates for veterans say more needs to be done to help those affected by exposure to burn pits.

Paul Wright, executive director of the National Veterans Legal Services Program, said some veterans and survivors are still encountering problems in getting assistance.

"Even with the PACT Act's passage, countless veterans and their families still battle to access the vital benefits owed to them due to toxic burn pit exposures,” Wright said in a statement earlier this month. “Many face the uphill struggle of proving service connection, while others remain unaware they can challenge past claim denials with new evidence.”

The National Veterans Legal Services Program offers a free program to help veterans and survivors file claims. The program and the Stronghold Freedom Foundation also announced a new partnership earlier this month to help veterans and survivors get benefits.

Advocates also say some veterans are being victimized by companies charging thousands of dollars for help in pursuing claims, despite a federal law that prohibits charging vets for seeking compensation for service-related health problems, The Washington Post reports.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee, recalled veterans sleeping outside on the Capitol steps to press Congress to approve the PACT Act. Tester sponsored the legislation.

“For far too long, our nation failed to honor its promises to our veterans exposed to toxins in military conflicts across the globe - until we fought like hell alongside veterans to finally get the PACT Act signed into law,” Tester said in a statement last week.

Under the PACT Act, several cancers, including brain cancer, respiratory cancers, and reproductive cancers are presumed to be serviced-associated for veterans who had been exposed to burn pits.

To get help

Veterans can go online to file claims or learn more about the PACT Act. Vets can also call 800-698-2411 (TTY: 711).

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