Veterans Affairs officials plan a public awareness blitz over the next five weeks to get as many individuals as possible to sign up for new military toxic exposure benefits ahead of an August deadline for retroactive payouts.

The Summer VetFest is part of a year-old, $11.4 million effort connected to the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (better known as the PACT Act), sweeping benefits legislation approved by lawmakers last summer. As many as one in five veterans living in America today could receive new health care or disability payouts as a result of the measure.

The PACT ACT provides presumptive benefit status for 12 types of cancer and 12 other respiratory illnesses linked to burn pit exposure in the Gulf War, the War in Afghanistan and the War in Iraq; hypertension and monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) for veterans who served in Vietnam; and radiation-related illnesses for veterans who served in several new locations in the 1960s and early 1970s.

“There are millions of veterans and survivors across America who are eligible for new health care and benefits, and we will not rest until every one of them gets what they’ve earned,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “That’s what this Summer VetFest is all about: educating veterans, their families, and survivors — and encouraging them to apply today.”

Since the PACT Act was signed into law on Aug. 10, 2022, more than 660,000 veterans have applied for benefits, and the department has paid out more than $1.4 billion.

Under federal law, veterans who apply for the PACT Act payouts within a year of the bill signing are potentially eligible for retroactive benefits back to that date. But veterans who enroll after Aug. 9, 2023, will only receive payouts back to their date of filing.

Veteran Affairs officials said that’s the impetus for the July outreach push. By filing ahead of the Aug. 9 deadline instead of after it, veterans who are awarded toxic exposure disability benefits could get tens of thousands of dollars more in payouts.

Department staff have held similar outreach efforts throughout the past 12 months, including a “PACT Act Week of Action” in December, when VA hosted dozens of local information events across the nation.

Along with new online ads and public service announcements, the new outreach push will include events in all 50 states (plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico) where veterans can apply for PACT Act-related benefits, enroll in VA health care, get screened for toxic exposures injuries, or learn more about VA services.

Veterans or their family members can also get information about PACT Act benefits by visiting the department’s web site or by calling 1-800-MYVA411 (1-800-698-2411).

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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