Veterans healthcare

President signs veterans health care bill regarding toxic burning fireplaces

President Joe Biden signed the PACT Act on Wednesday, August 10, 2022, marking what the White House calls “the most significant expansion of VA healthcare in 30 years.”

The bill enjoyed broad bipartisan support in the Senate, with the 50 Democrats joining the 34 Republicans in support. The legislation, however, was not widely supported by House Republicans as 174 of 211 voted against it.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the federal government is expected to spend $101 billion in direct health care costs as a result of the bill.

The bill includes additional care for veterans exposed to toxic combustion sources during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Proponents of 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 that toxic burning fireplaces made them sick. Advocates say the bill will make it easier for veterans to access care and compensation. It also allows families of veterans who died of conditions related to toxic combustion fireplaces to be eligible for compensation.

Divided into nine sections, the first four sections of the PACT Act deal with health care coverage, expansion, and eligibility. Eligibility for VA health care is broadened and expanded for veterans exposed to toxic substances and Vietnam, Gulf War and post-9/11 veterans. Over 20 new presumptive conditions for combustion fireplaces and other toxic exposures have been added, as well as more presumptive exposure locations for Agent Orange and radiation.

The VA will also now be required to provide toxic exposure screening to every veteran enrolled in VA health care.

To obtain a VA disability rating, the disability must connect to military service. For many medical conditions, a veteran must prove that their service caused the illness. The new presumptive conditions guarantee coverage for veterans who suffer from it.

Sections V and VI establish research requirements and standards for health issues related to exposure to toxic substances during military service. The PACT Act creates a framework for establishing future service connection presumptions related to toxic exposure. This means the VA will be able to add coverage conditions related to toxic exposure without an act of Congress, helping vets get coverage faster.

The final sections, seven through nine, deal with VA resources such as medical facility leases, records updates and management, VA workforce recruitment and retention, and funding for new programs.

The Congressional Budget Office cannot 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 alleged disabilities related to military service.