The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act is one of the largest-ever pieces of veteran legislation, with the potential to impact 3.5 million veterans. Predictably, its passage has led to predatory companies filling the airways and email inboxes with offers to help veterans “get their fair share of this windfall.”
[OFFICIAL PACT ACT INFORMATION: VA.gov/PACT]
What Is the PACT Act?
The principal purpose behind the PACT Act was to expand VA health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances. However, at the urging of veterans groups like MOAA, the PACT Act was able to “fix holes” in the presumptive claim process for Agent Orange and radiation-exposed veterans.
Specifically, the PACT Act:
- Expands and extends eligibility for VA health care for veterans with toxic exposures and veterans of the Vietnam, Gulf War and post-9/11 eras.
- Adds more than 20 new presumptive conditions for burn pits and other toxic exposures.
- Adds more presumptive-exposure locations for Agent Orange and radiation.
- Requires the VA to provide a toxic exposure screening to every veteran enrolled in VHA.
- Helps the VA improve research, staff education, and treatment related to toxic exposure.
File Claims for Free
Veterans should never have to pay someone to receive their earned benefits. MOAA always recommends the use of an accredited Veterans Service Organization (VSO) when dealing with the VA. VSOs provide VA disability compensation claim and appeal services free of charge, with no obligation to join their association (although they can ask if you’d like to join).
Most states participate in the County VSO (CVSO) program. To find your nearest CVSO, search online for your state and “department of veterans services.”
Who’s better – a national VSO (like Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, or Disabled American Veterans) or a CVSO? All VSOs go through the same training to be accredited by the VA. It’s always great to get an experienced VSO, but sometimes it just comes down to how soon you can get an appointment for assistance.
The PACT Act allows veterans and their dependents to sue the government for Camp Lejeune’s toxic exposure. However, if veterans participate in a Camp Lejeune lawsuit and receive compensation, the Justice Department will consult with the VA to “offset” any lawsuit compensation a veteran has already received (or is receiving) from the VA for the same disabilities. The government will not allow you to be compensated twice for the same purpose.
The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) combats potential benefit fraud related to the PACT Act by:
- Compiling information on suspicious companies and others with information provided by veterans who contact VBA.
- Preparing outreach campaign materials to warn veterans about predatory company schemes.
- Leveraging partnerships within the VA to share communications artifacts for dissemination.
- Preparing to share insights with the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) in their investigation and prosecution of bad actors.
To report suspected fraudulent activity, please contact the VA’s OIG hotline.
Do’s and Don’ts to Avoid PACT Act Scams
- Submit your claim online or in person at any VA Regional Office, if you can’t access a VSO.
- Be cautious of companies who advertise that VA benefits can only be obtained with their help.
- Be cautious of aggressive companies who may try to pressure you to sign a contract through frequent communications or by insisting that “you must act now or lose your chance for benefits.” There is no timeline or deadline to submit a toxic exposure claim.
- Be cautious of companies who claim to be contacting you on behalf of the VA or to have a special relationship with VA. Contact the VA at (800) 827-1000 if you are unsure about the authenticity of any message received.
- If you are interested in working with a VSO, agent or attorney, use the VA Office of General Counsel accreditation tool to confirm and validate their credentials.
[MOAA’S 3-PART SERIES: Don’t Be Scammed]
- Do not sign a contract to pay an unauthorized company a percentage of your benefit payment in exchange for their assistance with your claim.
- Do not sign a blank form for someone else to complete later. Always review the completed form before signing and keep a copy for yourself.
- Do not be fooled by companies who advertise they have special relationships with medical professionals and can guarantee your benefits award. If they are defrauding the federal government, you could be held responsible for paying those benefits back.
- Do not provide your social security number, medical records, or other personally identifiable information (PII) to anyone offering claim assistance before confirming their credentials.