Tomah VA extends health care coverage for veterans who were exposed to toxic environments as part of the PACT Act

Published: Nov. 16, 2022 at 6:40 PM CST
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TOMAH, Wis. (WEAU) - The Tomah VA is offering benefits to veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic environments while on duty as part of the PACT Act signed into law this summer.

Before the passage of the bill, veterans could be refused access to care if the claimed their medical condition was due to burn pits of other toxic exposure.

“The PACT Act allows veterans who have had a toxic exposure to receive screenings through the VA and apply for care and receive care and benefits that they have earned and deserved,” said Dr. Mary Ellis, who is the chief of staff at the Tomah VA Medical Center. “Exposures can be from toxic water, could be from environmental exposures such as radiation, sound and more recently burn pit exposure.”

Peter Johnston with the Chippewa County Veterans Services Office says this move will help even more veterans.

“With the new legislative push with burn pits and air contaminants it opens up for hundreds of veterans to gain access who normally didn’t have it,” said Johnston.

Dr. Ellis said for the Tomah VA it is estimated that 6,000 - 12,000 veterans could benefit from the PACT Act.

“The importance of this Act is that it removes the burden of proof from the veteran,” said Dr. Ellis. “For the veterans that I have seen in my pulmonary clinic, generally it has been some type of inhalational exposure. And that creates a variety of lung conditions such as cough, shortness of breathe. Sometimes people have developed diseases like asthma or COPD.”

If the veteran has passed away, their survivors can still apply for benefits.

“This is even applicable for veterans who have passed away. So their survivors can apply for retroactive consideration,” said Dr. Ellis.

Veterans or their survivors have a resources that can help them out with navigating the process.

“The best way for them is to come to our office if they have any questions or even believe that they qualify,” said Johnston. “I know for sure they won’t be doing any movement with disability claims with the PACT act I believe until January of next year. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t apply now.”

And in the end for Dr. Ellis, it’s about gaining the trust of veterans.

“We will like to see more veterans enrolling for care within the VA system,” said Dr. Ellis.

Dr. Ellis said the screening process has to be done with the Veteran’s primary physician.