December 13, 2023
In a significant development, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced on Tuesday that it has successfully screened 5 million veterans for potential toxic exposures since the passage of the PACT Act in 2022. Although the exact number of veterans diagnosed with related medical issues remains unclear, the VA revealed that 2.1 million veterans self-reported experiencing at least one potential exposure.
The screenings were initiated at VA medical centers and clinics as part of the PACT Act, a legislative effort aimed at expanding healthcare coverage for veterans. The overarching objective of the VA is to conduct screenings for toxic exposure on all veterans enrolled in their healthcare programs.
“We have made significant progress toward our goal to screen all veterans enrolled in VA health care for toxic exposures at least once every five years,” stated VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. ShereefElnahal. “But most importantly, this milestone means we’ve had 5 million opportunities to provide veterans with the exposure-informed care they deserve.”
The PACT Act represents a crucial step forward for many veterans who have struggled to establish links between chronic conditions and their time in the military. The legislation adopts a “presumptive” approach, relieving veterans of the burden of proof and connecting conditions such as asthma, certain cancers, and other illnesses to burn pit exposure.
During initial screenings, VA health providers inquire whether veterans believe they experienced any toxic exposures during their military service. Those responding affirmatively undergo follow-up questions and are offered connections to information on benefits, additional clinical resources, and registry-related medical exams. All responses gathered during screenings are documented in veterans’ VA medical records.
The screening process encompasses various toxic exposures, with Agent Orange (a pervasive issue from the Vietnam War) and burn pits being the most commonly reported exposures. President Biden, emotionally invested in the cause, has occasionally speculated that exposure to burn pits during the Iraq War might have contributed to his son’s ultimately fatal brain cancer, although no formal connection has been established. This personal connection fueled the president’s commitment to passing the PACT Act, securing additional funding for veterans’ healthcare.
The milestone of screening 5 million veterans reflects tangible progress in the VA’s efforts to address toxic exposures and provide informed care to those who have served. As the program continues, the VA remains dedicated to ensuring the well-being of veterans enrolled in their healthcare system.