Veterans who may have contracted serious illnesses from burn pit smoke and other military toxic exposure hazards have just a few hours left to submit disability claims and be eligible for up to a year of back payments, a windfall that could be more than $50,000 in some cases.

The original deadline for the submissions was Aug. 9, but technical problems with the Department of Veterans Affairs claims systems pushed that timeline back to this week. The benefits are being granted through the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act — better known as the PACT Act — which was signed into law one year ago this month. (The VA link to file is here.)

Veterans and survivors now have until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time today to file their claims or or submit an “intent to file” to be eligible to have their benefits backdated to August 2022. Individuals who miss that deadline can still file for monthly disability support, but if payouts are granted they will begin on the day of their filing.

The legislation could impact as many as one in every five veterans living in America today. It includes expanded disability benefits for 12 types of cancer and 12 other respiratory illnesses linked to burn pit smoke exposure in the most recent wars, as well as hypertension for veterans who served in Vietnam and were exposed to the chemical defoliant Agent Orange.

Veterans who are rated 100 percent disabled for injuries sustained during their military service can receive more than $4,000 a month in support from the VA, depending on their family status.

Veterans Affairs officials said as of last week, more than 450,000 claims have been granted under the PACT Act in the last year. But a rush of claims ahead of the Aug. 9 deadline caused technological errors within the department’s system, forcing the deadline extension.

On Aug. 10, House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mike Bost, R-Ill., sent a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough expressing concerns about the computer problems, and asking for plans for future improvements by the end of the month.

“VA’s failure to anticipate and prepare for the increased volume of submissions as the PACT Act deadline approached is unacceptable, given that the situation was easily foreseeable as this law is the largest expansion of healthcare and benefits for veterans in recent history,” he wrote.

At an event in Utah the same day, President Joe Biden downplayed the deadline issues and praised the VA for doling out more than $1.85 billion in PACT Act benefits in the last year.

“VA will move as quickly as possible to resolve your claim and get the benefits you deserve,” he said in a speech to veterans and supporters.

Veterans or their family members can get information about PACT Act benefits by visiting the VA’s website or by calling 1-800-MYVA411 (1-800-698-2411). VA officials acknowledged long wait times on the hotline last week, but said they have worked to resolve those issues as well.

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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