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'PACT Act' expands veterans with toxic exposures' eligibility for VA healthcare

Eastern Kansas VA Medical Center held resource, information fair for female veterans on PACT Act
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Posted at 3:53 PM, May 04, 2024

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — The Eastern Kansas VA Medical Center held a resource and information fair on Saturday morning for women veterans so that they can learn more about the PACT Act and its benefits.

The PACT Act was passed by the United States Congress in 2022. It expands and extends eligibility for VA healthcare for veterans with toxic exposures and veterans of the Vietnam, Gulf War and post-9/11 eras.

“It was ostensibly to open up VA healthcare and benefits to veterans who hadn’t been able to access it before,” Eastern Kansas VA Healthcare Outreach Coordinator Michelle Sweeney said. “If there are service conditions connected to your service, you can file a claim. Many of those conditions were caused by toxins.”

Sweeney says for so long, veterans were deprived of healthcare due to VA enrollment barriers. The PACT Act changed that.

“You’re a combat veteran, you’re eligible for VA healthcare — no time restrictions,” Sweeney said. “Really it means quality of life and it means care for their loved ones.”

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Veterans in attendance at the resource fair could file their claims and get enrolled in VA healthcare. Every enrolled veteran will receive an initial toxic exposure screening and follow-up screenings every five years.

“It’s opened up some avenues that I didn’t even know existed,” Gulf War veteran Elaine Belardo said.

Belardo was stationed overseas in Bahrain as a United Staes Army Nurse Corps officer.

“The Gulf War was fast and rapid, and I was so young. I was so, so young to be going through things that are that challenging,” Belardo said.

She lost friends and fellow soldiers inside the theater of operations. Throughout her life, she has been carrying around the physical consequences of deployment and war.

“And there’s some presumptive issues just based on what I experienced in the Gulf War that I just didn’t know. Things that I just kind of let go. And my friend said you really shouldn’t,” Belardo said.

It is difficult to know what sort of health conditions may arise in the future, but Belardo said she has peace of mind knowing the resources are already in place.

“Having some in place that’s gonna help my children, help me navigate potential health issues is very important,” Belardo said.

To file a disability claim online or apply for VA health care, head to organization’s website.