Error, group does not exist! Check your syntax! (ID: 21)

Native Vets urged to check out the PACT Act

The Federal Government is providing a lot of new money for Veteran benefits under the PACT Act, developed by MT Senator Jon Tester, Chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, signed into law in 2022.

This information is highlighted by NSNT for a simple reason. While Native Americans have the highest rate of voluntary military enlistment, they also have the lowest rate of receiving their fully earned benefits. Many times this is due to rural and cultural isolation and the inability to wade through the bureaucratic maze associated with application process. 

This was explained to NSNT by Lettie Irons Connell, Standing Rock Sioux member, now living in Arizona, who is an accredited Veterans Service Officer (VSO). These professionals assist Veterans in getting through the process of applying for additional benefits, health care and compensation. There are VSOs in every State.

It is described as one of the largest benefit expansions in the history of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), poised to provide additional benefits and health services to over five million veterans. The following information comes from a formal press release which can be found on the internet.

It involves filing a formal claim, participating in many exams and evaluations and “coming clean” about the mental, physical and psychological duress they have experienced due to the horror of that military experience. That all entails a lot of bureaucracy – paperwork, medical exams for third parties to verify PTSD which is discouraging to many vets, too often true about Native vets.

That is where Lettie and fellow VSOs come in. They know the system and guide the vets along in the process. Throughout the years she has helped many vets be successful in this process – many getting a much bigger monthly disability, more health care and significant back pay. And she does all this without pay.

The following information about the PACT Act and possible new benefits comes from a formal press release which can be found on the internet.

The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, named after a decorated combat medic who died from a rare form of lung cancer, specifically addresses veterans with toxic exposures during the Vietnam, Gulf War and post 9/11 eras.

Since the legislation was passed in 2022, the VA has processed 74,118 PACT Act-related applications out of the 246,688 it received. The department is prioritizing claims related to cancer and terminal illness. Homeless vets are also prioritized.

Since early December, the VA has provided 1,288,665 toxic exposure screenings at VA health administration facilities. If a veteran’s health is found to be at risk, they are put in contact with the VA benefits administration to determine if they are eligible for additional assistance.

Disabilities include: twenty more illnesses are now considered presumptive conditions for burn pit and other toxic exposures, meaning veterans will not have to prove that their service caused their condition. This reduces the paperwork required and the need for a disability exam before being granted access to health care and compensation. The list includes eleven respiratory related conditions and several forms of cancer. Survivors of veterans who died due to one of these conditions may also be eligible for benefits.

The enrollment period to join VA health care expands. Post 9/11 combat veterans may enroll within ten years of their discharge date instead of five. For other veterans, a one-year open enrollment period is made to join VA health care without having to demonstrate a service-connected disability.

VA will provide a toxic exposure screening to every veteran enrolled in VA healthcare. Gulf War and post-9/11 Veterans cancers are now considered presumptive conditions: Brain, glioblastoma, kidney, melanoma, neck and pancreatic cancers, along with any type of cancer that is gastrointestinal, head-related, lymphatic, lymphoma, reproductive and respiratory.

Other conditions presumed to be connected to service: Asthma diagnosed after service, chronic bronchitis, chronic COPD, chronic rhinitis, chronic sinusitis, constrictive or obliterative bronchiolitis, emphysema, granulomatous disease, interstitial lung disease, pleuritis, pulmonary fibrosis and sarcoidosis.

Post-9/11 veterans who served in these locations are presumed to have been exposed to burn pit toxins: Afghanistan, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Uzbekistan, Yemen — and any airspace above these locations.

Gulf War and post-9/11 era veterans who served in these locations are presumed to have been exposed to burn pits: Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, the UAE — and any airspace above these countries.

PACT also addresses the needs of Vietnam veterans including new presumptive conditions for Agent Orange include high blood pressure and monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance.

Veterans who were a part of response efforts in three locations are now assumed to have been exposed to radiation if they served. Survivors of newly eligible service members may be eligible for the following benefits: Dependency and indemnity compensation can include a one-time accrued benefits payment; health care through the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA); and a burial allowance for help with a veteran’s funeral costs and burial costs for qualifying spouses, partners or children

To file a disability claim for a newly eligible condition check the full details and eligibility information related to the PACT Act at or by calling 800-MyVA411 (698-2411). They can provide information about how to contact a VSO in your area.

Claims can be filed online, by mail, in person or with the help of a trained professional from a Veteran Service Organization (VSO). Claims for conditions that were denied in the past but are now considered presumptive should be filed through a supplemental claim.

NSNT urges Native veterans and other veteran readers of this column to check out the PACT Law. You owe it to yourself and to your family. Thank you for your service.

(Contact Clara Caufield at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.