Marcari Russotto Spencer Balaban, Donald Marcari, MRSB Law Firm
Veterans, Benefits, Veterans Benefits

News: ‘Millions’ of Veterans Are Eligible to Enroll This Month!

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Beginning March 5th, a vast number of U.S. Veterans will gain access to health care services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs. This initiative, aimed at supporting Veterans who were exposed to hazardous substances during their service, marks a significant acceleration in the VA’s efforts to extend benefits and services.

The Department of Veterans Affairs revealed on Monday that Veterans who have served in combat zones since the Vietnam War era, as well as those engaged in training or operations involving hazardous materials, are now eligible to sign up for VA health care.

This expansion in health care benefits is a direct result of the PACT Act, enacted by President Joe Biden in August 2022, which mandated this broadening of services to be completed by 2032. VA officials highlighted that this expedited timeline was made possible by a strategic increase in hiring, facilitated by the act.

Denis McDonough, the VA Secretary, emphasized the department’s commitment to providing care for Veterans affected by toxic exposures, regardless of where their service was conducted. “We’re inviting all Veterans who might have encountered toxins or hazardous conditions during their military service to seek the health care benefits they rightfully deserve,” McDonough stated in a press announcement.

Since the enactment of the PACT Act, over 100,000 Veterans have registered for VA health care, and approximately 760,000 disability claims have been processed successfully. While specific numbers weren’t provided, officials indicated that the expansion would make health care accessible to millions more Veterans.

Dr. Shereef Elnahal, VA Under Secretary for Health, expressed the department’s eagerness to provide care for these Veterans well ahead of the PACT Act’s schedule. “Our goal is to welcome these Veterans into the VA health system to ensure they receive the medical attention they’ve rightfully earned,” he stated.

The eligibility extension includes Veterans who served in conflict zones during the Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars. Veterans who were exposed to pollutants during non-deployment activities recognized as “toxic exposure risk activities” (TERA) are also eligible, whether these exposures occurred within the U.S. or internationally.

This includes exposure to a variety of environmental and occupational hazards, such as burn pits, chemical agents, contaminated water, and radiation, among others. The VA will determine eligibility for health care based on service records and other documentation indicating participation in a TERA.

Veterans seeking VA health care do not need to have a disability connected to their service or submit a compensation claim to qualify. Upon enrollment, they will undergo a toxic exposure screening by their primary care provider, with potential referrals to specialized care as needed, explained Elnahal in a discussion with journalists.

Additionally, these Veterans will be evaluated for inclusion in the VA’s priority health system and may be directed to the Veterans Benefits Administration for further benefits. The priority group

designation influences whether Veterans need to pay copayments for certain treatments or prescriptions. During a recent press briefing, Dr. Elnahal clarified that Veterans receiving care for illnesses related to toxic exposures would be exempt from copayments for treatments connected to those exposures. He highlighted the dual benefits of this policy—both economic and clinical—for Veterans seeking care.

To accommodate the anticipated influx of new patients and maintain, or even enhance, service standards, the Veterans Health Administration has set an ambitious goal to recruit 52,000 new employees within the current fiscal year. Factoring in normal staff turnover, this initiative aims to increase the organization’s workforce by 3%. Dr. Elnahal acknowledged the widespread challenges in healthcare recruitment but remained optimistic about the VA’s proactive strategies to streamline and expedite the hiring process.

“This expansion is not only a significant step towards fulfilling our obligation to Veterans but also a testament to our commitment to adapt and improve our services to meet their needs,” Elnahal said. He underscored the department’s dedication to enhancing the hiring procedures, ensuring the VA can effectively manage the growing demand for healthcare services while striving to reduce wait times for all Veterans.

By accelerating the provision of healthcare benefits and services for Veterans exposed to hazardous substances, the Department of Veterans Affairs is reinforcing its pledge to support those who have served the country, ensuring they receive the care and benefits they deserve in recognition of their sacrifices.

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