PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Even after the completion of military service, thousands of veterans in the Tampa Bay area have had to continue to fight for their lives.
The newly-expanded PACT Act passed a few months ago and now increases access to VA healthcare and benefits for those veterans who suffered illnesses and injuries that were not previously covered.
What You Need To Know
- The PACT Act was passed a few months ago and now increases access to VA healthcare and benefits for those veterans who suffered illnesses and injuries that were not previously covered
- The Bay Pines VA hosted an open house so that people can learn more about the benefits and how to access the resources
- The updated PACT Act now includes 23 more presumptive conditions or illnesses caused by toxic exposures veterans may have experienced while in service, such as exposure to burn pits and Agent Orange
PACT stands for "The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxins."
On Saturday, the Bay Pines VA hosted an open house so that people can learn more about the benefits and how to access the resources.
"These exposures have been very questionable in terms of showing burden of proof, so that has been the difficulty for veterans going through the process to demonstrate. Yes, they were exposed and because of that exposure, they have these medical conditions," said Bay Pines Chief Executive Officer Paul Russo.
A local veteran shared how this groundbreaking legislation will improve the quality of life for all servicepeople.
Stan Rosenfeld is a Vietnam War veteran who hopes he will qualify for that benefit.
"I served in Vietnam very proudly and honorably," he said.
To this day, Rosenfeld says he battles health conditions from his time in service.
"I have diabetes and neuropathy and I'm receiving 70% disability of which I'm grateful for," he said.
He attended an information session at Bay Pines VA Healthcare about the newly expanded PACT Act.
"I want to see if I qualify," Rosenfeld said.
Rosenfeld sat in the company of other veterans who were asking the same question.
The updated PACT Act now includes 23 more presumptive conditions or illnesses caused by toxic exposures veterans may have experienced while in service.
The new legislation increases access to VA health care and benefits for servicepeople exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange and other toxic substances.
Veterans of the Vietnam War, Gulf War and post-9/11 era are eligible to file claims.
DJ Reyes is a retired Colonel of the U.S. Army who said toxic exposures have impacted several generations of his family.
"As the years went on I watched my father with his health," he said. "I realize that now as an Army soldier and one whose afflicted with certain conditions as a result of the wars, I realize not only should I help myself and my brothers and sisters, but I got to help my own dad."
Reyes said his 90-year-old father served in the Korean War and Vietnam War and was exposed to Agent Orange.
Rosenfeld said the updated PACT Act was long overdue for his colleagues in combat.
"It's time to recognize the veterans that served in a war that was not popular, yet very honorably," he said.
Because some veterans passed away while waiting for the PACT Act to be expanded, that benefit is now available to surviving members of their families who qualify.
Claims for those who are terminally ill will be processed immediately, while all other claims will be processed beginning January 1.