The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has initiated a study to examine the potential link between three types of cancer and environmental exposures experienced by U.S. troops who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations. The study will focus on acute leukemia, chronic leukemia, and multiple myeloma, and their possible connection to service in countries such as Somalia, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Yemen, Uzbekistan, and the entire Southwest Asia operational theater.
Although these conditions are not currently designated as presumptive conditions, meaning veterans with these cancers would be eligible for expedited claims processing without having to prove the connection to military service, the VA encourages diagnosed veterans to file a claim and not wait for the research findings. The VA Secretary, Denis McDonough, stated that veterans should apply for the care and benefits they deserve immediately.
Multiple myeloma, a type of blood plasma cancer, is already recognized as a presumptive condition for veterans exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War era and for former service members stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, from August 1953 to December 1987. Adult leukemias are also included in the presumptive conditions list for Camp Lejeune veterans.
Before the passage of the Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act (PACT Act), the VA outsourced studies to determine the relationship between health conditions and military service. However, the legislation established a new process allowing the VA to review existing data, research, and VA claims data to designate new presumptive conditions.
The decision to review acute leukemia, chronic leukemia, and multiple myeloma was made based on input from veterans, veterans service organizations, members of Congress, health care experts, and scientific data available at the time. These three conditions are the first to undergo such a review since the enactment of the PACT Act.
More than 700,000 veterans have already applied for benefits under the PACT Act, and the VA has distributed over $1.6 billion in disability compensation and benefits to eligible veterans or their survivors since the law's implementation in August 2022.
The VA has been actively encouraging veterans and survivors to file disability claims under the PACT Act before August 9 to ensure that, if approved, they would receive backdated compensation to August 10, 2022. Veterans can also submit "intent to file" paperwork to establish a claim date and potentially receive backdated benefits if their claim is substantiated within a year.
While veterans without a presumptive illness can still apply for disability compensation and benefits related to a health condition they believe is connected to their military service, they must provide proof of service connection. The VA evaluates such claims on an individual basis.
To raise awareness about the PACT Act, the VA has organized various events nationwide, including Summer VetFests, reaching approximately 1 million veterans, caregivers, and their families. The VA aims to inform veterans not only about benefits but also about access to healthcare services and options available through the National Cemetery Administration to help them make informed decisions regarding their final resting place.