We discussed some of the details of the PACT Act in a previous blog, but we wanted to expand on that discussion here with respect to Veteran spouses, children, or dependents. We’ve been receiving lots of questions lately regarding presumptive conditions, how the PACT Act affects Veteran spouses and dependents, and whether they are now eligible for these new benefits as well. First let’s review what exactly is the PACT Act.
What is the PACT Act?
The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act is said to be the largest healthcare and benefits expansion in VA history. The government has finally come to the realization that they have exposed our Veterans and their spouses to many toxins during their military service. This is very evident in the Camp Lejeune Water Contamination Act, which is part of the PACT Act.
The PACT Act expands the eligibility for VA healthcare to Veterans with toxic exposures in Vietnam, the Gulf War, and the post 9/11 era. It adds about 20 more new presumptive conditions for burn pits and other toxic exposures. It adds more presumptive locations for agent orange and radiation. It also requires the VA to provide toxic exposure screenings to every Veteran enrolled in VA healthcare.
Now I’m traditionally not a fan of big government and I’m not sure if this act is going to make a drastic difference in Veteran care and benefits. I hope and pray it does because our Veterans and their spouses certainly need it. They served our country well and were exposed to some pretty terrible things while serving. They definitely deserve compensation and so I hope the PACT Act lives up to the hype from the VA.
Presumptive Conditions for VA Disability Benefits
Above we mentioned how the PACT Act adds more presumptive conditions for toxic exposure. So what exactly is a presumptive condition? To obtain a VA disability rating, your disability has to be connected to your military service. You have to prove that connection through service records and medical records. Simply put, you have to provide enough evidence to suggest that your illness or condition is a result of your military service.
When a disability is considered to be one of the presumptive conditions by the VA, you don’t have to prove that connection. You only have to show that you were in service during a certain time period and have a diagnosis for one of the listed presumptive conditions. The VA considers a condition presumptive when it is established by their rules or by law.
Let me provide an example here to further explain the difference between non-presumptive and presumptive conditions. I had a client was in the battle of Duc Lap in the Vietnam War. This was a fierce battle in the trenches and many US soldiers died as a result. Luckily, my client made it home but now he’s changed. He can’t go to the places he would normally go. He can’t go to the movie theater or other places with loud noises. He can’t be in crowds. And he doesn’t feel comfortable around people with oriental looks. It’s not that he’s prejudiced — he has PTSD.
PTSD is not one the VA’s presumptive conditions, so how do we prove that his condition is connected to his service? He has to prove that he was there in the Battle of Duc Lap in Vietnam. He has to prove that he has real fears about the things he experienced there, and he has to have a diagnosis from a qualified medical professional. He also must provide a stressor statement describing what happened to him and how those experiences changed him. Thankfully, we had all that information and were able to connect his service to his PTSD and get him the benefits he deserves.
It’s much easier to obtain benefits for presumptive conditions as opposed to non-presumptive conditions. That’s one of the great things about the PACT Act. It expands these presumptive conditions for many cancers and other conditions so that we no longer have to prove that connection. We only have to show service records and medical records.
Spousal Benefits Through the PACT Act
We’ve received quite a bit of feedback lately from spouses wondering if the PACT Act will also allow them to qualify for benefits. If you are the surviving spouse, dependent child, or parent of a Veteran who died from a service-connected disability, you may qualify for new benefits as a result of the PACT Act. But you have to complete the application and apply. That’s where we can help. We’ll help you cut through the red tape and make sure your application is thorough and complete.
To obtain these spousal or dependent benefits, you have to meet one of these three requirements:
1. You lived with the Veteran or service member without a break until their death. You had to be either legally married to them or in a common law marriage, which is fairly rare. You cannot have been separated unless the separation was not your fault. If the separation was not your fault, then you could still qualify.
2. You married the Veteran or service member within 15 years of their discharge from their military service during which the illness or injury occurred. This one can get tricky based on when the Veteran was actually diagnosed with one the presumptive conditions. If the Veteran was in Vietnam in 1974, the marriage would need to have taken place before 1989. But what if the diagnosis wasn’t until well after his service ended? If you have specific questions about this requirement, contact us and we’ll be glad to help.
3. You were married to the Veteran for at least one year or you had a child with the Veteran or service member. If you were remarried after the death of the Veteran, you can still receive benefits if one of these two things are true. You must have been married on or after December 16, 2003 and are 57 years old or older. Or you married after January 5, 2021 and were 55 years of age or older. These are silly to me, but they are two little known exceptions to the remarriage rule.
How Do You Obtain These Spousal Benefits?
As a surviving spouse of a Veteran, what evidence do you have to show to obtain benefits? If your Veteran spouse died from a service-connected disability and that disability is on the presumptive conditions list, you don’t really have to show a connection. But you do have to prove your relationship to the Veteran. You have to prove that you were married and not separated. If you weren’t married, you have to prove that you had a child together.
Although the condition may be considered presumptive by the VA, we still like to submit medical evidence showing the VA that the doctor agrees that the condition was a result of the Veteran’s service. We want to provide the most comprehensive application possible. This includes submitting doctors reports, medical records, medical tests — anything we have that can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you qualify for those benefits.
Contact Us So We Can Help!
These presumptive conditions and spousal Veterans benefits can be very complicated and are indeed “rocket science.” Fortunately for you, we do this every single day. We love helping our Veterans and their spouses because without them, we wouldn’t be free.
If you have any additional questions or need help filing your claim, please complete this form or give us a call at (229) 226-8183. You can also send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re here for our Veterans and looking forward to helping them receive the benefits that they deserve.
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