Forward Observer: So, How Does the New “Honoring Our PACT” Act Affect You, Veterans and Survivors?

After starting off as HR 3967, 3373 (Honoring our PACT) – and over a year’s worth of going back and forth, additions and deletions, combining of other proposed Acts, a quiet correction of a Senate procedural error, and a debate on the budget control dangers of converting discretionary funding to mandatory funding (the Sen. Toomey affair) – was enacted on 10 August. Short story is it brings together, however imperfectly, those measures needed to address the healthcare services and disability compensation needed by those suffering the effects of toxic exposures resulting from military service (plus some VA management issues);

It is a key piece of legislation estimated at affecting about 3.7 million veterans and a 100,000 of their survivors at a cost of $670 billion over ten years (about $270 billion in new costs).  By far, this is the most significant piece of veterans legislation since the Mission Act of 2018.  It should not be forgotten that while it is not perfect, it has taken about forty (40) years to get such a bill.

But how does it affect our Lehigh Valley military veteran families upfront and close?   It is a phased Act which requires some astute reading because of how it was ultimately “pressed” together from an assortment of other bills as written.  Some of the key features in the 59-page Act which are of most importance to affected veterans at this point can be found by clicking on this new VA webpage.

In addition, here are some other features of the Act (there are others):

  • The VA must improve the decision-making process for determining what medical conditions will be considered for presumptive status.  Includes the creation of an internal “Working Group.”
  • Enrolled military veterans will receive an initial toxic exposure screening and a follow-up screening every five years. Veterans who are not enrolled, but who are eligible to enroll, will have an opportunity to enroll and receive the screening.
  • VA health care staff and claims processors will receive toxic exposure-related education and training.
  • Demands research studies on mortality of veterans who served in Southwest Asia during the Gulf War, Post-9/11 Veteran health trends, and veteran cancer rates.  Requires the Secretary to conduct an epidemiological study on the health trends of veterans who served in the Armed Forces at Fort McClellan at any time during the period beginning January 1, 1935, and ending on May 20, 1999.
  • Addresses building a stronger, more skilled workforce to meet the growing demand for benefits and services.
  • Authorizes 31 new medical facilities across the country, providing greater access to VA health care.  For us that means the VA has received  authorization and appropriation of funds for a new, “major medical” facility in Allentown for about $32 million in Fiscal Year 2023.  Could that be about the proposed advanced clinic mentioned by the VA in its AIR recommendations so abruptly halted by the Senate?
  • Establishes the “Cost of War Toxic Exposures Fund” in the Treasury to be administered by the VA to invest in the delivery of veterans’ health care and benefits associated with exposures to environmental hazards during military services and medical and other research relating to exposure to environmental hazards. Appropriations to the Cost of War Toxic Exposures Fund to remain available through FY2024. Essentially makes the additional costs incurred to be mandatory funding (expediting action?).
  • Requires the VA to submit a plan for modernization of its information technology systems used by the VBA (its VHA IT improvements are a continuing, costly thorn in its side), and allows the Secretary to use the Cost of War Toxic Exposures Fund previously established to do this.
  • The final version dropped the requirement that the Secretary within one year of enactment, create and maintain a registry of individual’s who may have been exposed to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS); and then report to Congress on the status of data collection and any recommendations on addressing the needs of veterans exposed to PFAS within 2 years with a follow up report due in 5 years. This was about the firefighting foam groundwater contamination issue in various parts of the country, to include the Horsham area.

And by the way, wonder why you are seeing so many lawyer commercials on TV concerning Camp LeJeune over the last few days?  This new law allows certain individuals to bring an action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina to obtain appropriate relief for harm that was caused by exposure to the water at Camp Lejeune (but not punitive payments and the settled amounts are to be reduced by government healthcare and compensation costs already provided).  Our advice is to see an accredited veterans service officer from our major veterans organizations or from the county, first.

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RJH
As of 17  August 2022

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