by Amanda Miller
Post-9/11 combat veterans who served between 2001and 2013 have until Sept. 30 to enroll in Department of Veterans Affairs health care. The date will conclude a one-year "special enrollment period" provided by the PACT Act.
This provision of the PACT Act took effect in 2022. The act’s full name is the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics. It gave the potential to receive compensation to millions of veterans or their survivors who were exposed to radiation and toxic chemicals while in uniform, going back to the 1960s.
The VA enrollment period for post-9/11 combat vets is meant to get those veterans deemed to have been exposed to toxins based on their deployments onto the VA's rolls and into care in which the providers are cognizant of toxic exposures, said Cory Titus, an Army infantry veteran and director with the Military Officers Association of America who led the association's PACT Act advocacy.
The bill automatically assumes troops who served in certain locations were exposed. Once enrolled, veterans' individual circumstances will dictate how much care they'll actually be eligible to receive.
"Part of the challenge with toxic exposures is, there's such a delayed onset with all these different conditions. So, the reason for expanding the health care in the way we did is, we wanted to make sure that they were in the VA system and then had access to the different health-care resources," Titus explained.
"So, if something came up, on top of being ill, they weren't necessarily trying to deal with their private health-care insurance,” he said. “Most health-care providers in America aren't thinking about, 'Oh, and you were around burning trash, and that might be something that's contributing.' So getting them in the VA system and really just relying on the expertise there was an important part of this."
To qualify, veterans who have never before enrolled in VA health care must have served on active duty "in a theater of combat operations during a period of war after the Persian Gulf War," according to the VA, and they must have been "discharged or released" between Sept. 11, 2001, and Oct. 1, 2013. Veterans who served "in combat against a hostile force during a period of hostilities" after Nov. 11, 1998, may also enroll during the special period.
In passing the PACT Act, Congress also expanded the enrollment window for post-9/11 combat veterans who exited service on or after Oct. 1, 2013. Instead of the one-year special period, however, they'll have up to 10 years after their military separation date.