August 15, 2022
On Wednesday, August 10, 2022, President Joe Biden signed the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022 into law, amending various Veteran's Affairs (VA) authorities related to health care and benefits to address the effects of harmful environmental exposures that occurred during military service; human resource matters; and medical facility leases.
As reported in a White House release, the PACT Act will:
• "Ensure veterans can receive high-quality health care screenings and services related to potential toxic exposures, the PACT Act expands access to VA health care services for veterans exposed during their military service. For post-9/11 combat veterans, the bill extends the period of time they have to enroll in VA health care from five to ten years post-discharge. For those combat veterans who do not fall within that window, the bill also creates a one-year open enrollment period. These expansions mean that more veterans can enroll in VA health care without having to demonstrate a service connected disability.
• "Codify the VA's new process for evaluating and determining presumption of exposure and service connection for various chronic conditions when the evidence of a military environmental exposure and the associated health risks are strong in the aggregate, but hard to prove on an individual basis. PACT requires VA to seek independent evaluation of this process, as well as external input on the conditions it will review using this framework. The new process is evidence-based, transparent, and allows VA to make faster policy decisions on crucial exposure issues. This new process has already fundamentally changed how VA makes decisions on environmental exposures and ensures more veterans have access to the care they need.
• "Remove the need for certain veterans and their survivors to prove service connection if they are diagnosed with one of 23 specific conditions. This list includes 11 respiratory related conditions, along with several forms of cancer, including reproductive cancers, melanoma, pancreatic cancer, kidney cancer, and brain cancers such as glioblastoma. Survivors of veterans who died due to one of these conditions may now also be eligible for benefits.
• "Require VA to conduct new studies of veterans who served in Southwest Asia during the Gulf War and analyses of post-9/11 veterans' health trends. The new law also directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to convene a new interagency working group to develop a five-year strategic plan on toxic exposure research.
• "Ensure veterans get the care they need includes ensuring that they are screened for toxic exposure and that VA personnel have the appropriate education and training. The PACT Act requires that veterans enrolled in VA health care be screened regularly for toxic exposure related concerns. This new law also requires VA to establish an outreach program for veterans regarding toxic exposure related benefits and supports, and to require additional toxic exposure related education and training for VA personnel.
• "Deliver critical resources to VA to ensure it can deliver timely access to services and benefits for all veterans eligible - including those already enrolled. The PACT Act provides VA with mechanisms to enhance claims processing and to increase the workforce. The bill also invests in VA health care facilities by authorizing 31 major medical health clinics and research facilities in 19 states."
The legislation was passed by the House on July 12, 2022, and subsequently passed by the Senate with House amendments on August 2, 2022, before being signed into law by the President on August 10, 2022.