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VA Expanding Healthcare Access for Veterans

The list of chemical, airborne, and other hazards some U.S. military veterans have encountered while serving reads like a Who’s Who of war toxins and their sources. 

Depleted uranium. 

Burn pits. 

Pesticides and herbicides.  

Radiation from handling nuclear weapons. 

Now, in one of the largest-ever expansions of veterans healthcare, millions of veterans and servicemembers exposed to these and other toxic hazards during the Vietnam or Gulf wars, a post-9/11 conflict, or while serving domestically will be eligible to enroll in VA health care without first applying for disability compensation benefits. 

The change, effective March 5, 2024, is part of the PACT Act’s initiative to increase VA benefits for veterans exposed to toxins and other hazards in service.  This effective date, however, surpasses the approach outlined in the PACT Act, which phased in expanded healthcare benefits for eligible veterans.  Now, millions of veterans will be eligible for VA health care up to eight years earlier than what the PACT Act required. 

Who is eligible 

All Veterans who were exposed to toxins and other hazards while serving in the military will be eligible to enroll directly in VA health care.  This includes veterans who were exposed to toxins while serving in the U.S. as well as Vietnam Veterans, Gulf War Veterans, Iraq War Veterans, Afghanistan War Veterans, Veterans who deployed in support of contingency operations for the Global War on Terror (Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn, Operation Inherent Resolve, and Resolute Support Mission), and more. 

Toxins and their sources 

The effects on veterans of service-related exposure to toxins are an ongoing source of concern and subject of research.  For years, experts have studied and argued about the effects of toxins like Agent Orange and contaminated water from Camp Lejeune, and, more recently, attention has turned to Gulf War Illnesses. 

Particularly of concern is exposure to burn pits used to dispose of trash and other waste in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other sites outside the United States. Smoke from such pits contains “substances that may have short- and long-term health effects, especially for … those with asthma or other respiratory or heart conditions,” the VA says. Waste burned in the pits includes chemicals, paint, medical and human waste, munitions, and other unexploded ordnance, petroleum, plastics, rubber, and discarded food. 

Toxins in burn-pit smoke may affect the skin, eyes, respiratory and cardiovascular systems, gastrointestinal tract, and internal organs, according to the VA. 

In June 2014, the VA started the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry. The Registry is open to veterans and active duty servicemembers deployed to various locations. Signup, which is voluntary, can be done here.  

Besides burn pits, the toxins encountered by some veterans also include 

  • air pollutants (sand, dust, particulates, oil well fires, sulfur fires); 
  • chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, depleted uranium with embedded shrapnel, contaminated water);  
  • occupational hazards (asbestos, industrial solvents, lead, paints including chemical agent resistant coating, firefighting foams);  
  • radiation (nuclear weapons handling, maintenance and detonation, radioactive material, calibration and measurement sources, X-rays, radiation from military occupational exposure); and 
  • warfare agents (nerve agents, chemical and biological weapons). 


VA-DOD healthcare partnership 

This expansion of healthcare benefits is part of a two-pronged initiative that includes a groundbreaking partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense by which the VA also will enhance healthcare for veterans living at Fort Campbell or in the Clarksville, Tennessee, area. The VA-DOD partnership effectively expands specialty services such as dental care, women’s health care, and intensive care. Eligible veterans will have access to primary and mental health care from VA clinicians through the Fort Campbell VA Clinic in the Blanchfield Army Community Hospital. 

Implications and outreach 

The VA and DOD initiatives hold profound implications for veterans and their families, signaling a significant step toward enhancing healthcare access and improving health outcomes for veterans.  

By forging partnerships with other government agencies and expanding eligibility criteria for VA health care, VA is reaffirming its commitment to providing world-class healthcare services to those who served their country. As these initiatives roll out, it is imperative for eligible veterans to take advantage of the enhanced benefits and access the comprehensive healthcare services they rightfully deserve. 

Eligible veterans can learn more about VA healthcare here or by calling 1-800-MYVA411. The application for VA healthcare is here. 

Still unsure where you stand? We can help. Just contact Vets National today, at 877-777-4021. 

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