VA starts processing new PACT claims nationwide

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Michael Kilmer, Veterans Affairs Eastern Colorado Healthcare Director, takes questions from local veterans during the open house at the PFC Floyd K. Lindstrom Department of Veterans Affairs Clinic. Scott Prater

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough showed up in Colorado Springs Dec. 15 to meet local veterans and urge them to apply for benefits under the recently-passed Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act.

The act, perhaps the largest health care and benefit expansion in VA history, according to the VA website, promises to award benefits to veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals during their military service.

Many recent veterans were exposed to toxic chemicals via burn pits, which were used during the last two decades in austere environments to dispose of garbage, human waste, batteries, hazardous chemicals and other undesirable items. Older veterans, including Vietnam War soldiers, suffered Agent Orange exposure dating back to the 1960s and ’70s.

In response, the PACT act adds to the list of health conditions that the VA assumes are caused by exposure to these substances. It was signed into law Aug. 10.

“I’m here for a very simple reason,” McDonough said, addressing media at the Floyd K. Lindstrom VA clinic Dec. 15. “Veterans have waited too long to get access to care and benefits that they’ve earned and deserved for exposure to toxins. Whether that is veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam conflict, or the nearly 4 million veterans who served in (the U.S. Central Command area of operations) and that region, from Somalia and the Southwest, to Uzbekistan, and the Northeast, and all those places in between, like Iraq and Afghanistan, where for 30 years we had millions of veterans fighting and protecting our freedoms.”

Colorado Springs, which hosts five military installations, is home to thousands of veterans, many of whom experience symptoms of exposure to hazardous materials and their debilitating effects.

“Veterans [will come to us] in two ways,” McDonough said. “Either they will have their service connection expanded and therefore qualify for more services, or [they] will come in to establish a relationship with us for the first time… . There’s as many as 4 million veterans who served in that region. Therefore, they have an option of possibility being connected. We don’t anticipate all of those will come in. But we are anticipating a couple of million across the country at least. And importantly, we’re planning for that. Each of the personnel you see standing here with me, are actively recruiting, for benefits personnel, and for clinical health care personnel to make sure that we’re ready for those veterans when they come in.”

After McDonough’s Dec. 15 visit, the VA brought in subject matter experts and medical personnel to help local vets file VA claims and enroll for VA health care programs. The experts also screened veterans for hazardous-material exposure and administered flu and COVID-19 vaccines.

The VA will begin processing all disability compensation claims under the PACT Act on Jan. 1, 2023 — and veterans who apply for PACT Act-related benefits before Aug. 10, 2023 will have their benefits backdated to Aug. 10, 2022.

In an effort to prioritize dying veterans, the agency already began processing claims filed by veterans with terminal illnesses ahead of the Jan. 1 start date.

“If you are a veteran suffering from cancer, we will process your claims first,” McDonough said.

At its afternoon open house, VA Eastern Colorado Health Care Director Michael Kilmer welcomed local vets and answered questions about how the claims process might work. Of note, McDonough mentioned during his talk — and Kilmer reiterated during the open house — that the VA not only sees a need, but hopes to open a VA hospital in the Colorado Springs region in the foreseeable future, though plans are not set.

Meanwhile, critics have argued for years that the VA is a bloated, bureaucratic institution, slow to respond to veterans’ needs and health care concerns.

During his speech to local media members Dec. 15, McDonough implied that the agency seeks to build trust among veterans nationwide — and that the passing of this most recent act is evidence of its renewed effort.

“We are very competitive, thanks to new investments from Congress and from the President,” McDonough said. “But that’s not to say that there are not veterans who are frustrated because they haven’t been able to get in quickly enough.

“When we find veterans who are struggling to get in quickly, we jump. And we will continue to jump to because they deserve what we offer — the country’s best health care. And that’s what we will continue to strive for.”

Veterans who could not attend the open house can contact the VA for more information about the PACT Act and its benefits at or call 1-800-MyVA411.

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