The US Secretary of Veterans Affairs makes a stop in Waco to pass the PACT Act

WACO, Texas (KWTX) – The Secretary of the US Department of Veterans Affairs will visit the Waco Regional Office of Veterans Affairs on Thursday to receive the PACT Act.

The PACT Act was adopted in August 2022. The new law extends health care and benefits to veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange and toxins while serving in the military.

The Waco VA told KWTX that they started processing those claims in January 2023 and that they are hiring people to help with the large flow of claims they are receiving.

“We’re expecting a lot of claims and we need a lot of help,” said public relations officer Tim Sheppard.

Veterans Affairs One Stop, which serves veterans in McLennan County, said they’ve already had dozens of questions from customers about the PACT Act.

“We have veterans who are just asking, ‘Do I qualify?'” said Steve Hernandez, Founder of Veterans Only and McLennan County Veterans Services Officer. “Since we are not the final decision makers, we encourage everyone to do whatever they feel and submit whatever illness they’ve had so they can just file and see how the VA makes that decision.”

Hernandez has served at One Stop Veterans for more than a decade and said the implementation of the PACT Act for veterans has been a long time coming because he has seen many die from cancer or unexplained tumors.

“It really helped establish that the government is really trying to help with these unknown diseases, these diseases and all the health-related conditions that come from unsafe services and exposures,” he said.

Although he said the PACT Act is definitely a step in the right direction for veterans’ care, including adding potential new conditions for burn pits, toxic exposure, Agent Orange and radiation, as well as requiring poisoning diagnoses and improving research and treatment, Hernandez also said the law comes with some drawbacks.

“The downside is that the way it’s written, unfortunately, it seems more like it’s to help veterans who are already terminal or they’ve already died or they’re about to pass because of cancer.” Hernandez said.

The law expands health care coverage for veterans who served in the Gulf War, Vietnam, and the post-9/11 era. For example, a possible case of brain cancer or chronic bronchitis may make a veteran eligible for benefits or care due to exposure to wells or toxins while serving. The PACT Act also added high blood pressure as a possible condition from exposure to Agent Orange.

Due to the increased number of claims the VA receives, the hiring event welcomes veterans and non-veterans.

US VA Secretary Denis McDonough will officiate the event.

The hiring event begins at 10:20 a.m. and doors open at 9 a.m. VA asks anyone to RSVP: usajobs.gov. However, the crossings are not discouraged. Anyone who RSVPs will be given priority in the application process. They plan to hire applicants on the spot.

The secretary also visited Fort Hood and a veterans station in Bell County.

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