Veterans may be eligible for new benefit expansion

Representatives of the department spoke on the expansion at a town hall event held Friday in Kenai

Image via va.gov.

Image via va.gov.

The Alaska Office of Veterans is encouraging those who have served in the U.S. military to see whether or not they may be eligible for benefit expansion under federal legislation passed last year.

Representatives of the department took time during a town hall event held Friday in Kenai to brief attendees about the benefits they could receive under a law President Joe Biden’s administration has touted as “the most significant expansion of benefits and services for toxic exposed veterans in more than 30 years.”

The law is called the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act. The act aims to expand benefits for veterans exposed to Agent Orange, burn pits and other toxic substances during service in Vietnam, the Gulf War and post-Sept. 11, 2001.

Among other things, the legislation adds more than 20 new “presumptive” conditions recognized by the VA associated with certain military service. Per the VA, the department “automatically presumes” that certain disabilities were caused by military service, because of the unique circumstances of a veteran’s service.

“If a presumed condition is diagnosed in a Veteran within a certain group, they can be awarded disability compensation,” the VA says.

Chad Pomelow, an army veteran who now works as a veterans service center manager for the VA’s Anchorage Regional Office, told attendees that the PACT Act expands the type of disabilities the VA presumes veterans became afflicted with while serving.

“If you served in Vietnam, the VA recognizes that you were exposed to Agent Orange,” Pomelow said. “We don’t question that. And then there are some presumptive disabilities that are associated with that toxic exposure from Agent Orange.”

Per the VA, high blood pressure is one of the new presumptive conditions recognized for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange, as is monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance, a condition in which atypical proteins are found in a patient’s blood.

New presumptive conditions recognized by the VA for veterans who served during the Gulf War or post-9/11 include 11 new concerns, including brain cancer and lymphoma, and 12 new illnesses such as asthma diagnosed after service, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema.

Monday was the deadline for veterans to apply for backdated benefits, however, the speakers noted that veterans can apply for benefits at any time. Veterans can find more information about the PACT Act and can file VA claims at va.gov.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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