Veterans exposed to burn pits, toxins no longer have to wait to apply for health benefits

Monique John Image
Wednesday, March 6, 2024
All veterans exposed to burn pits can apply for health benefits
Veterans as far back as Vietnam exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances can immediately apply for treatment.

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Veterans Administration (VA) is taking a major step to expand healthcare access for veterans through the PACT Act.

The PACT Act is allowing all veterans as far back as Vietnam exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances can immediately apply for treatment. The process was originally supposed to be rolled out over nearly a decade.

Several veterans at the VFW Post 6018 in Fayetteville say they're excited about the PACT Act's expansion. Up until this point, only a small population of all of the eligible vets could apply--with those benefits slowly rolling out to everyone qualified to receive them by 2032. However, some veterans say they have some reservations.

Veteran Rita McMillian says she praised President Biden for signing the PACT Act into law back in 2022, and that it's been a major form of support for her cousin who served starting in Vietnam. But she says the VA needs to do more to publicize its benefits for burn pit exposure.

"A lot of veterans are still unaware of the benefits that they can have."

Otis Cuffee who served in Afghanistan and Iraq also applied for benefits. But he says he's worried about how long it will take to receive treatment. He's also concerned that he won't receive disability if his ailments can't directly be connected to his burn pit exposure.

"They need to come on and take care of us. We took care of them. Let's take care of us," Cuffee said.

The VA does list more than 20 conditions in which veterans can automatically receive treatment for. Gail Cureton of the Fayetteville NC VA Coastal Health care system says the VA has been working since last year to ditch its original, nearly decade-long phase-in plan to accelerate the rollout. She says now as many as 40,000 veterans in the Fayetteville VA system alone could be able to apply for PACT Act benefits right away.

"One of the things that we're aggressively working on is reaching out and making sure that we continue to work very hard to hire the men and women who will want to continue to take care of our veterans for years to come," Cureton said.