SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Congressman Richard Neal was at the Springfield VA clinic Friday to highlight the passage of the PACT Act.

The PACT Act, signed in to law by President Biden in August of 2022, is aimed to help veterans cope with the health complications they are struggling with as a result of exposure to toxins, like agent orange and chemical burn pits.

Neal told 22News, “This is ground breaking legislation. it not only is going to deal with toxic issues currently from Iraq or Afghanistan but it’s also going to look to deal with the problem of Agent Orange, cases that have been brought over the years. The VA is hiring thousands of people for the process of expediting these claims and revisiting them.”

The new law expands VA health care and benefits to the more than five million veterans exposed to harmful chemicals. If you are a veteran who is interested in learning more about these expanded benefits, contact your local veterans service officer or call 1-800-MYVA411.

“When our servicemembers return home, many of them are confronted with a new set of challenges stemming from a service-connected disability or disease. For those struggling with complications resulting from toxic exposure, it has been difficult to treat not only due to the lack of coverage, but because unlike a physical disability, it is not something others can see. Now, with the PACT Act, we have finally delivered the care and treatment that these men and women deserve,” said Congressman Neal. “We owe it to our Veteran community to provide them with the benefits they have earned through their service to our nation. Toxic exposure is a cost of war, and our country must uphold its promise to our Veterans by recognizing it as such and paying the bill. With the PACT Act, Veterans who were exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic substances during their service are now able to access the proper treatment.”

The VA says it’s speeding up claim processing to ensure veterans with cancer from toxic exposures are getting access to care. VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes said all PACT Act-related claims provide coverage for more than 20 new presumptive conditions.

“There’s no evidence required. Bottom line- if you have one of those conditions, come see us for healthcare, but also file your benefit claim today, so you can get the benefit you’ve earned,” Hayes said.

The toxic exposure screenings will take place every five years, but if veterans notice any signs, they can seek immediate help. Hayes says there are thousands of veterans who still haven’t signed up for coverage or filed a claim. He’s urging those who have, to reach out to their fellow service members.

Veterans have already filed 600,000 claims since the PACT Act passed on August 10, 2022. To handle that surge in claims, the VA added more than 27,000 to its staff at across regional offices.

“The PACT Act is a historic new law that expands VA health care and benefits for Veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances. We have coordinated multiple outreach and awareness events, such as this one, in efforts to empower Veterans to take advantage of expanded healthcare eligibility and benefits authorized by the PACT Act,” said VA Central Western Massachusetts Director Duane Gill. “VA CWM is here for our nation’s Veterans, including those not enrolled in VA health care and those who choose to receive their care in the community, and encourage all Veterans not enrolled in VA health care to apply for their PACT Act benefits.”