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VA Maine preparing for more enrollees under new toxic exposure law

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Terry Ross via Flickr | https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
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via Bangor Daily News
The Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Maine is preparing for more enrollees in the coming years, thanks to a new law that President Joe Biden signed last week.

The law, known as the PACT Act, expands eligibility for VA health care and other benefits to veterans with toxic exposures, as well as veterans who served during the Vietnam War, Gulf War and post-9/11 eras.

The VA has said the new law could be the largest health care and benefit expansion in its history.

About a dozen kinds of cancer, as well as asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses are now considered presumptive conditions and could qualify veterans for care with VA Maine. In other words, veterans who have one of those cancers or illnesses don't need to prove that their military service caused the condition, as long as they meet other requirements.

Dr. Todd Stapley, chief of staff for the VA Maine Healthcare System, said survivors of deceased veterans may also be eligible.

"Some of these conditions, their loved one, their veteran loved one, has passed away and now they may have a chance to reclaim some benefit due to these presumptive conditions," he said.

The VA serves some 54,000 veterans in Maine today. That number will grow, although it's unclear exactly how many Maine veterans will be eligible for benefits under the new law, said Tracye Davis, the medical center director for the VA Maine Healthcare System.

Nationwide, anywhere from 500,000 to 5 million veterans could be new enrollees to the VA under the PACT Act, she added.

VA Maine plans to call and send more information to veterans about the new law through the mail. They're also planning outreach efforts through local veterans service organizations.

But VA Maine officials are encouraging veterans and survivors to apply now for benefits, even if they're not sure if they're eligible.

"We don't want veterans to wait to hear from the VA," Davis said. "We are encouraging veterans to go ahead and file now."

A more detailed list of presumptive conditions and information on how to submit a claim can be found at VA.gov.