After its introduction in 2021, the preliminary form of the Sergeant First Class (SFC) Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act became a beacon of hope for veterans in search of direly needed disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Months of lobbying and campaigning ensued, ultimately resulting in the bill’s ratification with overwhelming bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress.
Upon signing it into law, President Biden hailed the legislation as a critical step toward honoring the sacrifices veterans over the past fifty years have made in service to our country. The PACT Act of 2022 has since drastically altered the structure and procedure of the VA and provided veteran claimants greater access to disability benefits to preserve their health and their families’ financial security.
Although the PACT Act brought the VA bureaucracy into the 21st century, the claims process, especially the appeals stage, is lengthy, and there is no guarantee that a veteran will enjoy immediate access to the full benefits to which he is entitled. Nevertheless, the experienced veterans disability benefits lawyers at Dolman Law Group, PA are prepared to offer qualifying claimants the assistance that they need to acquire the monthly disability benefits they deserve.
PACT Act Introduces Numerous Presumptive Conditions
One of the most important impacts that the PACT Act of August 2022 had on the contemporary VA disability benefits bureaucracy was to promulgate a variety of new presumptive conditions for toxic chemical exposure. Presumptive conditions are diagnoses which clinical research and bureaucratic approval recognize as definitively linked to an individual’s time in service.
Normally, the burden of proof for establishing a service connection and diagnosis lies with a veteran claimant. Presumptions of service connection remove this burden and consequently streamline the VA’s processing of a claim and a veteran’s ability to access benefits quickly.
Most presumptions of service connection are related to specific locations, operations, and circumstances, including:
- Camp Lejeune toxic chemical exposure
- Gulf and Persian War operations
- Post-9/11 military operations
- Agent Orange exposure
- Gulf War syndrome
Although the VA, prior to August 2022, had relied upon select presumptions of service connection, the lists tended to be limited in and of themselves, and the VA lacked an efficient mechanism for amendment upon the publication of revealing medical literature.
The New Working Group in the Department of Veterans Affairs
The Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022 is tremendously internally diverse, containing multiple subordinate acts that modify preexisting VA procedures and architecture. The Toxic Exposure in the American Military (TEAM) Act, embedded within Title II’s expansion of presumptive conditions, directs the VA to create a so-called “Working Group” which, pursuant to subsequent alterations, is tasked with conducting assessments of “cases of the toxic exposure of veterans and their dependents”.
The Working Group – whose employees are derived from the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Defense, Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency – further reserves the right to make recommendations to the VA and the Congress on new presumptions of service connection. This novel bureaucratic mechanism, doubtlessly, has jumpstarted an institutionalized and constant process of evaluation and reevaluation for disabilities and injuries correlated to a veteran’s time in service.
Rather than rely exclusively upon congressional acts, court decisions, and settlements, the VA now has the ability to promulgate presumptive conditions internally, which may prove critical for past, present, and future claimants.
Congress Funds Federal and Independent Research for Presumptive Conditions
In order for the VA and the Working Group to promulgate presumptions of service connection, it is paramount that they have access to cutting-edge and high-quality research. Consequently, multiple sections of the PACT Act, provide critical funding not only for federal and governmental research but for accredited, nongovernmental research institutes.
Collectively addressed as the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, “the academies” are directed to conduct research to provide expertise and advice. Section 1176 of the PACT Act designates appropriations to the National Academies for the investigation of severe and ubiquitous medical conditions amongst American veterans.
On top of the independent research, the PACT Act also directs the Working Group to undertake “collaborative research activities” to advance the department’s knowledge of:
- Mortality rates of veterans who served in Southwest Asia
- Health trends in post-9/11 veterans
- Cancer rates among veterans
- Health effects of waste from the Manhattan Project
- Toxic chemical exposure and mental health outcomes
Naturally, the research that the Working Group conducts will summarily be used in the evaluation of potential presumptive conditions and may serve to amend preexisting lists. For veterans in search of disability benefits, the VA’s PACT Act research mandates could prove crucial in having their illnesses recognized as presumptive.
Veterans Outreach Program, Nexus Examinations, and Updated Information Systems
The PACT Act accomplished a top-to-bottom modernization of the contemporary VA disability benefits system. Nevertheless, its provisions were long overdue, and many veterans who filed claims in the past failed to receive a presumption of service connection or the full benefits to which they were entitled.
Fortunately, the PACT Act orders the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct a thorough review of claims – presumably, those both resolved and unresolved – and subsequently inform claimants if they now qualify for a presumption of service connection. Essentially, this post-hoc provision permits formerly ineligible veteran claimants to request and receive a reevaluation of their claim and enjoy any subsequent alterations to their disability ratings or monthly compensation.
Another important provision of the PACT Act affords veterans the right to seek a “medical nexus examination”, which amounts to a reconsideration of a claimant’s medical evidence substantiating a service connection. Finally, Title VII of the PACT Act of 2022 requires the Veterans Benefits Administration, a subsidiary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, to revolutionize its information technology systems in order to “increase the speed and accuracy of claims and processing decisions”.
VA Disability Benefits Claims and the Importance of Legal Counsel
The VA disability benefits claims and appeals process can be long, arduous, and frustrating. Despite the VA’s noticeably hastier processing of claims in the aftermath of the PACT Act, compiling a compelling claim, acquiring private and military medical records, and filing VA Forms can prove burdensome for veteran claimants and their families.
Consequently, the assistance of a qualified veterans disability lawyer is essential for acquiring compensation. Even if the VA has displayed greater efficiency in processing claims under the PACT Act, it is still notorious for assigning inadequate disability ratings or denying claims outright.
When this happens, a veteran claimant may decide to undertake the extensive appeals process to access their due disability benefits from the VA. At this stage, recruiting legal representation could help to prepare a claimant for:
- Supplemental Claims (SCs)
- Higher-Level Reviews
- Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA)
- U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC)
The wait time for each stage ranges from a few months to a few years with the progression not being entirely linear or straightforward. It is paramount that a claimant devise a strategy for success with the aid of an experienced VA-accredited attorney who possesses institutional knowledge and a proven track record of getting clients the benefits to which they are entitled.
Why Choose Dolman Law Group as Your Veterans Disability Claim Lawyers
At Dolman Law Group, PA, we believe that veterans who risked their lives in the defense of our country deserve to have access to disability benefits with as little hassle or trouble as possible. On the one hand, the PACT Act partially accomplishes this objective. On the other, bureaucracy is bureaucracy and legislation, however comprehensive, will never eradicate delays, mishaps, and errors.
That is why our VA-accredited veterans disability claims lawyers are on standby to offer you the advice you need and advantageous connections to facilitate the burdensome appeals process. Combining personal injury law experience with extensive institutional knowledge, our legal team provides the individualized treatment of a small firm with the resources and influence of national practice.
With over 120 combined years of personal injury law experience and a proven track record of success, we will work tirelessly to protect your rights as you tend to your health. If you believe that you meet the qualifications for VA disability benefits and/or suspect that you may be “covered” by the new presumptive service connections established by the PACT Act, consider contacting us today for more information and advice.
Contact Dolman Law Group for Help with Your VA Disability Benefits Claim
No veteran should have to endure the lengthy VA disability benefits appeals process alone. Considering that a veteran’s decision to seek disability benefits in the first place is a consequence of financial strains connected to mounting medical expenses, mortgages, and decreased earning potential, the longer the wait, the more jeopardized their stability becomes.
Fortunately, our qualified legal team of veterans disability lawyers offers free consultations to prospective clients and can provide assistance in determining the eligibility and viability of a claimant’s case and the potential disability rating to which he may be entitled. Whether you need aid in accessing medical records and DD-214s or preparing for a hearing with the BVA or CAVC, we want to help.
For more information, consider contacting us at (727) 451-6900 or scheduling an initial meeting at one of our local offices.