PACT Act offers vets new healthcare opportunities

By Scott Swanson
Lebanon Local

Linn County Veterans Services Officer Dee Baley-Hyder is excited about the opportunities a new federal program that will assist veterans negatively affected by Agent Orange and chemicals released from large fire pits during the Gulf War.
“This is huge for us and huge for veterans,” she said in describing the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, passed by Congress in August. Baley-Hyder told county commissioners earlier in the fall that the program is “largest health care and benefit expansion in Veteran Administration history.”
The program, which goes into effect in January 2023, will aid veterans exposed to toxic chemicals as far back as the Vietnam war era on a budget of $300 billion over 10 years Baley-Hyder said. The PACT Act adds 23 new presumptive conditions and could affect 5 million veterans or their survivors.
The PACT Act’s budget is $300 billion over 10 years, which will provide services and care for veterans of U.S. conflicts extending back to World War II, including – and this is what excites Baley-Hyder, who assumed leadership of the county’s Veterans Services in July of 2021 after starting with the department in 2015 – those who served in the Gulf War and post-9/11.
Among the conditions for which the law will provide veterans opportunities for care are hypertension and symptoms believed to stem from exposure to toxics during their service, which Baley-Hyder said will be very important.
“It includes burn pit and toxic exposures and it also adds radiation presumptive exposure,” she said. “It also is going to be able to help with more veterans be able to be enrolled VA health care.”
Burn pits are used by the U.S. military to dispose of waste that can include plastics, shipping materials, electonic waste and other materials that can emit toxic fumes. Their use gained notoriety during the Gulf War and they have been the subject of lawsuits by veterans, Department of Defense civilians and military contractors. In 2019 the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from veterans who had sued defense contractors over claims that toxic smoke from open burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan caused them serious health problems.
Baley-Hyder said the Veterans Administration had not accepted claims in those areas until the new law was passed.
“As a veterans service officer, I think this is going to affect a lot of people,” Baley Hyder said, noting that her department has already been hearing from dozens of veterans about the program. “The Gulf War started in 1990 and we have all these new presumptives. They’re coming forward, a lot with chronic bronchitis, chronic sinusitis, respirator cancers. There have been a lot of breathing issues because they were around those burn pits.
In addition to the PACT Act, the county has also continued to provide transportation to veterans who can’t drive to medical services to as far away as the Portland area, thanks to $20,000 authorized by the Board of Commissioners earlier this fall. Veterans Services had used all of a $11,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs to provide transportation for veterans who can’t drive and need transportation to medical services.
Many of the veterans are receiving cancer treatment or have diabetes and have wound care appointments. One recently had cataract surgery.
“The Gulf War hasn’t ended,” Baley-Hyder said. “They went in 30 years ago when they were young. Now they are older. We’re going to help them as much as we can.
Veterans Services office, at 330 Third Ave. SW in Albany, is open from 8:30 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call (541) 967-3882 or (800) 319-3882.