CINCINNATI — The most comprehensive piece of legislation tied to benefits and compensation for our military isn’t necessarily perfect if you ask those involved in helping veterans through the process of filing claims.
“Just to have to have it passed is a quick exhale. We know there’s more work to be done but what a relief to know that some help is here to benefit some veterans and their survivors,” said Mike Farmer, executive director at the Butler County Veterans Service Commission in Ohio.
The PACT Act, which was signed into law in 2022 by President Joe Biden, expands VA health care and benefits for veterans exposed to toxic substances, some of which are tied to things like burn pits and the defoliant agent orange.
“The eligibility requirements have changed, presumptive conditions have changed so many people who have always been told 'no,' the answer is now 'yes, how can we help you?'” Farmer said. “We’re trying to get them back in follow-up and really develop those claims that should have been filed years ago.”
The non-profit Disabled American Veterans (DAV) headquartered in Erlanger, Kentucky advocates for veterans and educates lawmakers on the needs of veterans. While they overwhelmingly celebrate the passage of the PACT Act they would be the first to tell you some veterans were overlooked.
Shane Liermann is the Deputy Legislative Director and US Marine Corps veteran. He and his team are now raising awareness on the more than 15,000 service members who deployed to Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan between 2001 and 2005.
“There was enriched uranium found in the soil, chemical weapons as well as cyanide found in the showers,” Liermann said.
He says that the base also had a burn pit and for the thousands exposed to those toxins, the new PACT Act will cover those diseases and illnesses associated with burn pits, however, many veterans would fall outside the current law with other ailments.
“They had a whole unique set of toxins that isn’t covered by burn pits, so if they have a disease or condition related to the specific toxins at K2, the PACT ACT doesn’t apply to them,” Liermann said. “We’re also seeing some autoimmune disorders as well as thyroid conditions and even blood infections and blood disorders that wouldn’t be covered by the PACT ACT.”
He cites a U.S. Army report from 2015 that said veterans stationed at K2 would be 500% more likely of having cancer as a result of exposures at the base.
“We’re hopeful the VA will take a new look at this based on their new way of establishing presumptive diseases to exposures, but we’re also going to be pushing for a legislative fix to make sure these veterans are still going to have access to healthcare and benefits,” Liermann said.