President Joe Biden signed the PACT Act on Wednesday, August 10, 2022, marking what the White House calls the “most significant expansion of VA health care in 30 years.”
The bill had extensive bipartisan support in the Senate with all 50 Democrats joining 34 Republicans in support. The legislation, however, was not widely supported among House Republicans as 174 of 211 voted in opposition.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the federal government is expected to spend $101 billion in direct health care costs due to the bill.
The bill notably provides additional care for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Advocates for the bill say it expands access to Veterans Affairs health care services for veterans exposed during their military service.
The law will also ease the burden of proof for veterans proving toxic burn pits made them ill. Advocates say the bill will make it easier for veterans to access care and compensation. It also allows families of veterans who died from conditions tied to toxic burn pits to be eligible for compensation.
Broken into nine sections, the first four sections of the PACT Act address health care coverage, expansion and eligibility. VA health care eligibility is expanded and extended for veterans with toxic exposures and veterans of the Vietnam, Gulf War, and post-9/11 eras. More than 20 new presumptive conditions for burn pits and other toxic exposures were added, as were more presumptive-exposure locations for Agent Orange and radiation.
The VA will also now be required to provide a toxic exposure screening to every veteran enrolled in VA health care.
To get a VA disability rating, the disability must connect to military service. For many health conditions, a veteran needs to prove that their service caused the condition. The new presumptive conditions guarantee coverage for veterans who suffer from them.
Sections V and VI establish research requirements and standards for health concerns related to toxic exposure through military service. The PACT Act creates a framework for the establishment of future presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposure. This means the VA will be able to add conditions for coverage related to toxic exposure without an act of Congress, helping vets get coverage faster.
The final sections, seven through nine, address VA resources such as medical facility leases, records updates and management, VA workforce recruitment and retention, and funding for the new programs.
The Congressional Budget Office can not estimate how many veterans will be affected by the law. Officials are also unable to estimate the number of veterans who would receive additional health care or the prevalence of disabilities presumed to be connected to military service.
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