VA to review link between military toxic exposures and additional cancers
Stars and Stripes July 25, 2023
WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs will review whether three more types of cancers will be added to the list of conditions presumed to be caused by exposure to toxins from military burn pits, the agency announced Tuesday.
The department revealed it will conduct new studies to determine whether veterans with acute leukemias, chronic leukemias and multiple myeloma outside of the head and neck could have resulted from military service in Iraq, Afghanistan and Southwest Asia.
“We won’t rest until we understand whether there’s a connection between these deadly conditions and the service of our nation’s heroes,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said.
The move is part of the VA’s efforts to provide more health benefits to more veterans suffering from illnesses stemming toxic exposure as a result of The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022, or PACT Act, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden almost a year ago.
The law seeks to provide an easier path to health care and benefits for veterans who served near open-air burn pits, which were used throughout the 1990s and the post-9/11 wars to burn garbage, jet fuel and other materials. Veterans diagnosed with cancer, respiratory issues and lung disease at young ages have blamed exposure to the toxic fumes from these pits, though the VA contended for years that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support their claims.
The PACT Act also expanded health care eligibility to post-9/11 combat veterans and added 23 conditions related to burn pits and other toxic exposures to the VA’s list of service presumptions.
The VA has delivered more than $1.6 billion in PACT Act related benefits to veterans and their survivors. At least 700,000 people have submitted claims as of July 15, according to the department’s PACT Act performance dashboard.
The three new conditions were selected because existing scientific data and consultation from veteran services organizations point to a connection between the cancers and military service.
Cancers of the head and neck are already considered presumptive under the PACT Act, so the new review will not include them. Other areas where service members were deployed that are also being considered under the new review include Somalia, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Uzbekistan.
The VA has been encouraging all veterans and survivors of toxic exposure to file a claim for PACT Act related benefits. Department officials during a congressional hearing in May said there is an upcoming deadline Aug. 9. Most veterans who file a claim, or submit their intent to file a claim, before Aug. 10, 2023, will have their benefits, if granted, backdated to Aug. 10, 2022, when Biden signed the act into law.