VA opens enrollment for burn pit exposure healthcare and disability benefits this weekend

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Veterans said it’s been a long time coming.

Starting this weekend, service members who were exposed to toxic burn pits overseas will now have access to expanded disability benefits.

The Department of Veteran Affairs is implementing the new PACT Act and it extends eligibility for VA health care to those specific vets.

“We fought a hard battle to get the PACT Act passed but that was really just to get to the starting line here,” said Amanda Barbosa, a former enlisted soldier, and wife of a veteran.

The starting line for veterans who are living with serious health conditions after exposure to burn pits.

Amanda Barbosa’s husband is one of them and he is now fighting stage 4 colon cancer.

She said while their VA experience has been positive, she believes the PACT Act will make that a reality for others too.

Starting this weekend, veterans of the Vietnam War, Gulf wars, and post-9/11 era will be able to get expanded care and benefits.

If veterans have one of more than twenty listed conditions, the VA will simply assume their service caused it.

“It’s an unprecedented bill that’s going to impact millions of veterans so it’s a big undertaking, but I believe that the VA is prepared,” said Barbosa.

This month, the VA started a pilot program that screened more than 13,000 veterans.

Officials found one-third of them had concerns about exposure.

The agency said these results will help it expand screenings to all vets in November.

Barbosa said this isn’t the end.

“Just making sure that we that veterans know that we didn’t just pass a bill and now we’re walking away,” she said. “We’re here right with you making sure that all the benefits that you have earned that you receive.”

The VA said eligible veterans have a one-year window to enroll and it will begin processing these benefits in January.