VA Designates Male Breast Cancer, 2 Other Cancers as Service-Connected Illnesses Under PACT Act

A burn pit at Combat Outpost Tangi in Afghanistan.
The flames of a burn pit picks up with the winds as a storm approaches Combat Outpost Tangi in the Tangi Valley, Afghanistan, Aug. 31, 2009. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade)

The Department of Veterans Affairs has added three rare cancers to its list of illnesses presumed to be caused by exposure to burn pits and other environmental toxins during the Persian Gulf War and post-9/11 combat operations.

The VA announced Monday in the Federal Register that it has designated male breast cancer, urethral cancer and cancer of the paraurethral glands as presumptive diseases under the PACT Act, allowing affected veterans to file for expedited disability compensation and health care benefits.

The additions follow similar moves in 2021 and 2022, when the VA added three common conditions -- asthma, rhinitis and sinusitis -- and nine rare respiratory cancers to the list of PACT Act-related conditions.

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Since 2021, the VA has managed an internal effort to determine which illnesses should be presumed to be related to military service. With the new process, VA staff review available science and data, as well as veterans' claims data, to establish new presumptive conditions.

"We are working with urgency to deliver on the promise of the PACT Act to provide health care and benefits to as many toxic-exposed veterans as possible -- we're leaning in wherever we can," VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement Friday. "VA is working with one goal in mind: Getting today and tomorrow's veterans and their families the benefits they deserve as fast as possible."

    VA officials did not say how many veterans may be affected by the policy change.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2,300 cases of male breast cancer were diagnosed across the U.S. in 2017, while urethral cancers account for 1% of all urological cancer diagnoses.

    The National Institutes of Health describes paraurethral gland cancers as "extremely rare."

    Under the new policy, veterans with the illnesses who deployed anywhere in the Southwest Asia theater of operations, including Iraq, as well as Afghanistan, Somalia, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Uzbekistan, could be eligible for expedited benefits.

    According to the VA, veterans who have the newly added cancers -- or were previously diagnosed during their service or afterward -- will have their disability compensation backdated to Aug. 10, 2022, the date the PACT Act became law.

    VA officials added that the department will review all claims from veterans or their survivors that were previously filed for the conditions.

    Male breast cancer has been associated with tainted water at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where veterans and family members were exposed to industrial solvents and other cancer-causing chemicals in their drinking water from the late 1950s through 1987. However, male breast cancer is not listed as a presumptive condition for Camp Lejeune claims.

    Instead, affected veterans or military dependents who develop it are eligible for health care through the VA and may file an individual compensation claim but must prove that their cancer was caused by living or working at the base.

    According to the VA, the department has approved more than 1 million PACT Act disability claims and awarded $5.7 billion in compensation to veterans or survivors.

    Related: Veterans, Advocates Want Blood Cancers Added to PACT Act List of Burn Pit-Related Conditions

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