VA official touts expansion of benefits for veterans exposed to toxins

During a visit to North Little Rock on Friday, a top U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs official encouraged Arkansas veterans to take advantage of an expansion of health care and other benefits for those who were exposed to toxic substances.

The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, signed by President Joe Biden in August 2022, expanded eligibility for VA benefits for veterans who were exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange and other toxic substances during their service, as well as for their family members and caregivers.

In Arkansas, 19,000 veterans have submitted PACT Act claims, VA Deputy Secretary Tanya Bradsher said Friday after touring the Eugene J. Towbin Veteran Affairs Healthcare Center in North Little Rock.

She said 14,000 of the claims have been processed, and 10,000 of the veterans are receiving benefits.

As of 2022, over 220,000 Arkansans were veterans, according to the VA.

Bradsher urged veterans to apply for benefits even if they were previously denied.

"For those that might think 'I really don't need the VA for healthcare,' we really encourage them to reach out because while they may be fine right now, we have no idea what we were exposed to when we were in Iraq or Afghanistan," Bradsher said.

The North Little Rock health care center provides toxic exposure screenings required under the PACT Act for veterans enrolled in VA health care.

"For the toxic exposure screenings, they've screened 44,000, 68% of those currently enrolled, and of those that they've screened, they've been able to follow up with 100% within 30 days for them to then seek care and find out more information about their exposures," Bradsher said.

During her visit, Bradsher also met with veterans receiving care at the center, which she praised for its quality of care and work serving homeless veterans.

"I found out that the waiting times have been reduced by 60% for primary care and mental health ... Amazing work from the homeless program team in reducing homelessness here in Arkansas," Bradsher said.

My Ly is a Report for America Corps member.

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