'It used to burn real bad,' certain toxic exposures from military service covered for veterans under new bill

‘It used to burn real bad,’ certain toxic exposures from military service covered for veterans under new bill

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LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — While serving the country, thousands of veterans were served with lifelong health problems that they could not seek medical treatment for.

The problems were inflicted by exposure to toxic substances – like burn pits, agent orange, and radiation – while serving during the Vietnam War, Gulf War, and Post 9/11 Eras. In some instances, Veteran Affairs (VA) benefits did not cover treatment for those exposed.

As American Legions Post #76 Commander Pravana Moody said in Downtown Las Vegas Friday, “a lot of us leave the military and say, ‘we’re fine, we’re fine,’ because that’s what we’ve been taught to do.”

Decades after service, some Nevada veterans reported hair loss, menstrual problems, hypertension, cancers and other conditions from toxic exposure.

“Changing a fuel controller, you spend about eight hours with fuel running down your arms. You used to tie a rag on your elbow so that it wouldn’t run down into your armpit,” Dan Sanders, Veterans of Foreign Wars Department of Nevada commander, said across the room from Moody. “It used to burn real bad if it got in there.”

The dilemma is especially relevant in Nevada where veterans are over 9 percent of its population. The VA dashboard records this amount as 216,626 people.

Now in 2023, the PACT Act (or, the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022), is expanding healthcare access to thousands more of these veterans.

Over 20 conditions relating to toxic exposure were added to the presumptive eligibility list, meaning veterans do not have to prove relevant conditions were caused by the exposures. Asthma diagnosed after service, several cancers and chronic bronchitis are a few conditions included.

Also, it requires the VA to provide toxic exposure screenings every five years to enrolled Veterans. Democratic Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto adds that it expands eligibility to the family members of a veteran who died because of toxic exposure while serving.

The senator met with Las Vegas veteran community leaders on Friday for a roundtable about the new law.

“It expands eligibility for combat veterans to seek VA healthcare because they’ve been exposed to some kind of toxic exposure like radiation or burn pits or toxic chemicals,” Cortez-Masto said outside American Legion before the roundtable Friday morning. “If there was an exposure, we’ve got to take care of them and their families.”

The VA dashboard shows 2,456 new veterans enrolled for VA care in Nevada since the August signing through the end of March 2023 and 5,197 new claims related to the PACT Act.

A VA representative at the roundtable predicts receiving up to 20,000 new members in Nevada because of the expanded and new eligibilities.

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