The Department of Veterans Affairs is holding in-person events in 27 states through the first part of August in hopes of receiving as many toxic exposure benefits claims as possible by Aug. 9.
Those who can't make it to an event in person may attend a virtual event Aug. 2. The department had already received, as of July 24, at least 772,461 claims from veterans, or the survivors of deceased veterans, for benefits under the PACT Act.
President Joe Biden signed the PACT Act into law in August of last year. It gives the potential to receive health care and compensation to millions of veterans exposed to radiation and toxic chemicals while in uniform, or their survivors, going back to the 1960s. The VA now assumes that certain medical conditions are service-connected if the veteran served in a certain place at a certain time.
The VA wants as many potential beneficiaries as possible to file claims -- or formally declare their intent to do so -- by Aug. 9 in hopes of backdating their benefits all the way to the earliest possible date.
The "Summer VetFest" informational series consists of "casual summer gathering events" for "veterans, their families, veteran advocates, congressional offices and the VA Health Care System and benefits professionals," said Kenesha Britton, assistant deputy undersecretary in the VA's Office of Field Operations, on a call with reporters July 24 to promote the events.
"Some of these events will feature food and music as well as VA staff who are ready to help veterans apply or submit an intent to file," Britton said.
A veteran must be diagnosed with one of the presumptive conditions to be eligible for benefits. Benefits may be backdated by a year no matter when a veteran files, but Aug. 10, 2022, is the earliest effective date for living veterans.
An exception exists for veterans' survivors, VA officials told Military.com by email. Survivors may receive some compensation backdated prior to the signing of the law if the deceased veteran was denied benefits in the past and the VA determines that a presumptive condition would have qualified the veteran for benefits while still alive.
Britton said PACT Act beneficiaries "can then take those benefits and services and compensation to pay bills, to buy food, to do education ... so all those things and not just for one set of veterans but veterans over many years, many generations, many times of war."
Those veterans who don't think they have all the documentation they'll need to support their claim in time for the Aug. 9 deadline can still declare their intent to file by submitting a separate form by that date. If within 365 days they file their claim and qualify, they can then get the full benefits backdated to August 2022.
Veterans and survivors can file their PACT Act claim online at va.gov. Veterans service organizations and county-based veterans service officers may offer free help with filing.
Although the Aug. 9 deadline represents the last chance for veterans to get the maximum backdated benefit, there is no deadline to file a PACT Act claim. If a veteran is diagnosed with a presumptive condition in the future, their benefits could start as early as their date of diagnosis.
-- Amanda Miller can be reached at email@example.com.