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Vermont Governor and VA officials focus on new law expanding benefits to veterans exposed to toxic substances

From left: Governor Phil Scott, Adjutant General Gregory Knight and Interim White River Junction VA Executive Director Becky Rhoads
ORCA Media
From left: Governor Phil Scott, Adjutant General Gregory Knight and Interim White River Junction VA Executive Director Becky Rhoads

Vermont Governor Phil Scott’s weekly briefing today focused on the PACT Act, a new federal law that expands health care and benefits for veterans exposed to toxic materials.

According to the Veterans Administration the PACT, or Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics, Act expands VA health care for all veterans exposed to toxic substances such as burn pits and Agent Orange during the Vietnam and Gulf Wars, and post-9/11 conflicts. It also requires toxic exposure screenings for every veteran enrolled in VA health care.

Governor Phil Scott says it’s crucial to get information about the PACT Act to veterans.

“My dad served in WWII as a tank operator and came home a double amputee. The VA was there for my dad and people like him who came back with visible physical injuries as a result of their service. But the PACT Act makes sure that those who were exposed to chemicals that cause cancer and other hidden illnesses get care as well. That’s why it’s important for veterans to learn more about these benefits and places where they might have been exposed to burn pits and other chemicals that cause serious health problems later in life.”

Becky Rhoads is White River Junction VA Medical Center Interim Executive Director.

“It’s one of the largest health and benefit expansions in American history. This law recognizes that toxic exposure is a cost of war and allows us in VA to address the full range of issues that impact toxic exposed veterans.”

Rhoads reported that as of last week the VA had received, nationally, over 260,000 PACT related claims and performed over a million toxic exposure screenings. She added that the White River Junction facility has done 1,700 toxic exposure screenings in the past three months.

“If you are on the burn pit registry that’s a separate and different thing from filing a claim. So a claim for benefits is the thing that then allows us to provide health care.”

Vermont National Guard Adjutant General Gregory Knight is concerned that some veterans may not get word about the PACT Act’s benefits.

“When they retire they leave Vermont. They go elsewhere and we simply lose track of them. They certainly don’t report back to us. And my big concern is once somebody separates from the service, as I said we don’t have track of them, but they also may not connect an ailment with exposure to burn pits. If you do the screening you’re far more likely, and I say this not being a doctor by any stretch, but you’re far more likely to find something early and be able to get the treatment once you’re enrolled in the VA system.”

Governor Scott remembered servicemembers who died before the creation of the registry.

“Trying to get this registry so that we know who they are, where they are, so they’re getting screened is really a matter of life and death at times.”

The state and the Vermont National Guard are sponsoring a VA claim assistance and toxic exposure screening clinic at Camp Johnson in Colchester on February 25th.

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