LAS VEGAS (KLAS) – As a deadline for retroactive care looms, veterans are receiving medical treatments for toxic exposure that were once not covered by the VA.
James Eden, for one, is coming off of two decades as a combat engineer in the army where he focused on counter mobility: land mines, demolition, and other tactical operations were his specialties.
“(I was) deployed three times to Iraq between 2003 and 2009,” Eden said inside a Henderson office building Thursday morning. “I was stationed in Korea, Southern California, Missouri.”
But, he was exposed to much more than just tactical operations. He and his fellow soldiers were told to defecate in a communal bin where diesel would be poured and set on fire when full.
Exposure like this – when added to those from agent orange, burn pits, and other toxic chemicals – led thousands of veterans to report hair loss, hypertension, cancers, and several other health conditions decades after service.
“Whether (veterans) have the symptoms or not now, they could in the future,” Eden said. “It’s really scary coming out and becoming a civilian. You don’t know where your healthcare’s going to come from.”
Treatment for certain conditions likely caused by toxic exposure during the Vietnam War, Gulf War, and Post 9/11 Eras were once not covered by the VA. Now, several of them are.
After U.S. President Joe Biden signed the PACT Act of 2022 last August, over 20 conditions related to toxic exposure were added to the presumptive eligibility list.
It means veterans do not have to prove relevant conditions were caused by the exposures, such as asthma, several cancers, and chronic bronchitis diagnosed after service.
It also requires the VA to provide toxic exposure screenings every five years to enrolled Veterans.
In certain cases, it expands eligibility to the family members of a veteran who died because of toxic exposure while serving.
Veteran officials in the Las Vegas valley met Thursday morning in Henderson to discuss how the estimated 216,626 estimated veterans living in Nevada are made aware of this expansion.
The VA Dashboard reports 108,574 Nevada veterans are enrolled in VA benefits, with 10,162 PACT Act-related claims being received from August 2022 to mid-July with
“People don’t know what they’re exposed to. So, when they come to the (toxic exposure) screening, there’s a section that says ‘other’ and they don’t know what to put down,” VA Southern Nevada Decision Review Officer and Rating Quality Specialist Monica Lewis said to the roundtable.
“What I hear is, ‘I didn’t think I needed it,’” VA Southern Nevada Chief of Administrative Medicine Monica Rawlinson-Maynor added, speaking about experiences with veterans. Her exposures can include vaccinations, bug bites, and lead paint.
To receive retroactive benefits from the bill’s signing to now, eligible veterans have until August 9 (next Wednesday) to apply on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website or at a VA Medical Center. There is no deadline to apply for PACT Act benefits in general.
Rawlinson-Maynor adds veterans can call 702-791-9013 to directly connect with a North Las Vegas VA Medical Center representative who can schedule a free toxic screening.
She adds these screenings are over the phone, but may be requested in person.
Nevada Senator Jacky Rosen orchestrated the Thursday roundtable and encourages those who were declined certain claims before the PACT Act was signed to reapply.
“At the Nevada test site years back, we had above-ground nuclear tests. So, there could be radiation exposure,” Rosen said after the roundtable. “You can continue to apply and you should continue to apply.”