Military members understand the risks that they are taking when they enlist in the armed forces. They understand the heightened threat of severe injury and even death and undertake this risk to protect others. However, what many people often overlook is the risk of toxic exposure in their work environments, living spaces, and other places.
Exposure to toxic substances can result in immediate symptoms and long-term health effects that do not appear for years after the initial event. In certain cases, military veterans affected by toxic substances are eligible for compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). However, many rules are important to understand regarding how the VA addresses toxic exposures.
What Are Common Types of Toxic Exposures Faced by Veterans?
Military veterans may have been exposed to toxic substances while deployed in certain places around the world or at certain military bases in the United States. Below are some of the most common toxic exposures faced by veterans:
- Burn Pits: Burn pits were once used to dispose of waste materials near military living quarters in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places. These pits exposed military members to toxic substances in the air, water, and soil, resulting in devastating health effects.
- Agent Orange: During the Vietnam Era, certain military members may have had contact with Agent Orange, an herbicide that was used to clear plants and trees. This dangerous chemical is linked to birth defects and other serious conditions.
- Toxic Drinking Water: Between 1957 and 1987, the drinking water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune was contaminated by chemicals from nearby laundry facilities. These contaminants are linked to a higher risk of certain illnesses, like cancer. A Camp Lejeune toxic water lawyer can help you assess your legal options if you or a loved one were harmed by these conditions.
- Asbestos: Asbestos is a group of minerals that can be dangerous when inhaled, leading to serious conditions like mesothelioma. Military members who handled asbestos-containing materials may have inhaled asbestos fibers.
Presumptive Illnesses and Toxic Exposures
When a military veteran applies for disability benefits, he or she must prove to the VA that the medical condition was caused or worsened by his or her military service. If the VA can verify this claim, the department will grant benefits and move to the next stage of the veteran’s application and assign a disability rating.
For toxic exposures, it can be difficult for the VA to make this determination. Therefore, the department has identified a list of illnesses and injuries that are presumed to be caused by toxic exposure, as long as the member served in an area associated with the condition.
For example, military members and their families who lived at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days from August 1953 to December 1987 are eligible for benefits if they were diagnosed with a presumptive condition. The presumptive conditions for Camp Lejeune are as follows:
- Adult leukemia
- Multiple myeloma
- Aplastic anemia
- Bladder cancer
- Parkinson’s disease
- Liver cancer
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Kidney cancer
New Presumptive Conditions for Burn Pits under the PACT Act
In August 2022, the Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022 was signed into law. This Act expanded the presumptive conditions related to burn pits; previously, the vast majority of VA disability claims related to burn pits were denied. Under the PACT Act, more veterans can access the benefits that they deserve.
If you are a military veteran who was exposed to burn pits, you may be eligible for compensation if you served on active duty in a location near these environmental hazards. You must have been diagnosed with at least one of the following presumptive conditions:
- Brain cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Neck cancer
- Gastrointestinal cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Head cancer
- Reproductive cancer
- Respiratory cancer
- Lymphatic cancer
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Chronic sinusitis
- Chronic rhinitis
- Chronic bronchitis
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Constrictive bronchiolitis
- Obliterative bronchiolitis
- Interstitial lung disease
- Granulomatous disease
Camp Lejeune Compensation under the PACT Act
In addition to expanding the list of presumptive conditions, the Honoring Our PACT Act also provides another avenue for compensation for victims of Camp Lejeune water contamination. Under Section 804 of the PACT Act, veterans and their families could pursue a federal cause of action if they lived at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987.
By filing a claim, they can recover compensation to help pay for the losses that they sustained as a result of their illnesses, such as medical care. However, there is a statute of limitations of two years from the day that the PACT Act was enacted for victims to file. If you believe that you qualify for compensation under this section, it is critical to contact an attorney as soon as you can.
How Can You File a Claim for Disability Benefits After Toxic Exposures?
If you wish to file a claim for VA disability benefits claim after toxic exposure, it is important to gather as much evidence as possible related to your condition. Gather your medical records, evidence related to your military service, and testimonies from friends, family, clergy, and other individuals who may know about your medical condition.
After gathering these documents, you will need to submit your claim for disability compensation. You can file online, via mail, or by visiting a VA regional office in person. After you file your claim, the VA will make a decision and determine whether you are eligible for benefits. If your claim is denied, you have the right to file an appeal.
Were You Exposed to Toxic Substances as a Military Veteran?
Military veterans who were exposed to toxic substances deserve fair compensation for their medical care, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Under the PACT Act and other pieces of critical legislation, veterans have the right to recover certain benefits for military-related conditions. However, the VA can deny disability claims for a number of reasons, and it is important to both submit a comprehensive application and be prepared to file an appeal.
In these situations, it is important to consult with an attorney who specializes in cases involving veterans exposed to toxic substances. A lawyer can help you determine your optimal path to financial recovery and build a case for your right to benefits or compensation under the PACT Act. Contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your situation and plan your next steps.