|Vietnam Veterans of America|
|Government Affairs, September/October 2022|
Finally: Congress Passes the PACT Act
On August 10, President Biden signed The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act into law. This bipartisan legislation established service presumptions for toxic exposures, making it easier for some 3.5 million veterans to receive care and benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
For more than 40 years VVA has steadfastly worked for veterans living with chronic illnesses resulting from toxic exposures during their service. While the PACT Act mandates that all veterans have earned comprehensive relief this law offers them, the speedy execution of this law is especially important for Vietnam War veterans because many of them desperately need those benefits. The act’s passage also is an acknowledgement that the country recognizes and honors Vietnam War veterans’ service.
VVA worked side by side with Rosie Torres of Burn Pits 360, Jon Stewart, SFC Heath Robinson's mother-in-law and daughter Brielle, and many others, to push Congress to enact this legislation. A special thanks to the veterans who sacrificed being away from their families and camped out at the U.S. Capitol under extreme weather conditions and to VVA members for writing letters, making phone calls, and personally lobbying their members of Congress to support the PACT Act.
VVA would like to also thank Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Jon Tester (D-Mont.), the ranking member Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), the chair of the House of Veterans Affairs Committee, Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), and all the other members of both parties who led the fight for the enactment of this historic legislation.The VA Secretary has said that the department will move expeditiously to implement the law to deliver the care veterans need and the benefits they deserve. VVA will hold him to his word.
The PACT Act, among other things:
The law also directs the VA Secretary to award retroactive benefits for dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) for conditions under section 1116(a)(2)(M) of Title 38 of the U.S. Code. The VA will be contacting survivors who were previously denied DIC benefits and may be eligible under the PACT Act. You do not need to wait for VA to contact you to submit a claim.
Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors can apply for PACT Act benefits by filing a VA claim. YYou can learn more about the PACT Act at VA.gov/PACT, by calling 1-800-MyVA41, or contacting your local VSO or county service representative.
SECTION 804 – CAMP LEJEUNE EXPOSURES
In addition, Section 804 of the act, “Federal Cause of Action Relating to Water at Camp Lejeune,” allows veterans who worked or lived at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune for 30 or more days between 1953 and 1987 to seek compensation from the federal government for physical ailments related to exposure to contaminated water.
The right to file a claim is limited to those whose illnesses were manifest before their dates of enactment. The settlement comes with an offset; if you receive compensation, your VA benefits will be offset by the contaminated awards. However, you will continue to receive your disability benefits.
Awards and settlements will be paid from the Judgment Fund, a permanent, indefinite appropriation that is available to pay monetary awards against the United States that are judicially or administratively ordered. Payments from that fund are classified as direct spendings funds.
VVA is recommending that veterans wait to file a compensation until the regulations for section 804 have been codified so that they and their families are not taken advantage of and charged outrageous legal fees by law firms just out to make a buck If you are approached by a law firm, please do not make any commitment until you have consulted with a VSO or county veterans service officer who provide free legal services to veterans.
VVA offers representation to veterans and their survivors of all eras, not just those who served during the Vietnam War. VVA is deeply invested in ensuring quality representation in the veterans benefit claims process because of our long history of advocacy on this issue. In 1983, VVA took a significant step by founding Vietnam Veterans of America Legal Services (VVALS) to help veterans seeking benefits and services from the government.
ALL POLITICS IS LOCAL
Election Day is right around the corner. Our goal is to let those running for public office get to know us personally and understand that we are here and engaged in the process.
All politics is local. If your chapter chooses not to get involved in politics, then step out on your own. Take the necessary steps to learn about your members of Congress work with them and keep them informed about what is important to you. If they are not informed about veterans and their issues, ask them to start a Veterans Task Force to help them make sound decisions when dealing with veterans’ issues.
The key is to embrace them and show them that you are willing to help them succeed. Once you start working with your elected officials, others will take notice and seek input from you.
What follows are brief descriptions of veterans’ legislation signed into law recently by the President As always, if you have questions about anything, please let us know so that we can provide the tools that you need to succeed.
PL 117-138/S.4089 - Veterans Rapid Retraining Assistance Program Restoration and Recovery Act of 2022. This law, prohibits the Department of Veterans Affairs from charging any entitlement to retraining assistance under the Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program in situations where an individual is unable to complete a course or program as a result of the closure of an educational institution or the disapproval of a program by the state approving agency or the VA. The period for which retraining assistance is not charged must be equal to the full amount of retraining assistance provided for enrollment in the program of education.
PL 117-137/S.3527 – This law amends title 38, United States Code, to authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to transfer the name of a facility, structure, real property, or a major part of such properties (e.g., a wing) to another VA facility under certain circumstances.
PL 117-136/S.2687 - Strengthening Oversight for Veterans Act of 2021. This law gives the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General the authority to subpoena the attendance and testimony of witnesses as necessary to carry out the duties of the office. Such authority terminates on May 31, 2025, but subpoenas issued prior to that date shall be unaffected by the termination.
PL 117-135/S.2533 - Making Advances in Mammography and Medical Options for Veterans Act. This law addresses the Department of Veterans Affairs provision of mammograms and breast cancer treatment.
PL 117-134/S.2514 – This law, renamed the Provo Veterans Center in Orem, Utah, as the Col. Gail S. Halvorsen “Candy Bomber” Veterans Center.
PL 117-133/S.2102 - Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas SERVICE Act. This law expands eligibility for Veterans Health Administration mammography screenings to veterans who served in certain locations during specified periods, including those who were exposed to toxic substances at such locations.
PL 117-132/S.1872 - United States Army Rangers Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act. This law provides for the award of a single Congressional Gold Medal to the U.S. Army Rangers Veterans of World War II in recognition of their service during World War II.
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