Toxic Exposures

Guide to Toxic Exposure for Veterans

This guide provides information and resources for veterans who may have been exposed to toxic substances during their military service.

Table of Contents

Toxic Exposure Checklist

If you’re unsure whether you’ve been exposed to toxic substances during your military service, consider the following questions:

  • Did you serve in a location with known toxic exposures (e.g., Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Camp Lejeune, etc.)?
  • Were you near burn pits or did you inhale smoke from these pits?
  • Were you exposed to chemicals, pesticides, radiation, or other hazardous materials?
  • Did you experience unexplained symptoms (e.g., respiratory issues, skin conditions, gastrointestinal problems, etc.) during or after your service?
  • Have you developed a health condition that is considered presumptive for toxic exposure by the VA (e.g., certain cancers, respiratory conditions, etc.)?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you may have been exposed to toxic substances during your service. Please reach out to your healthcare provider or a Veteran Service Office for further assistance. You can also find the nearest VA health center by visiting the VA Locations Search Page or your states Veteran Service Organization.

The PACT Act

  • Expands and extends eligibility for VA health care for Veterans with toxic exposures and Veterans of the Vietnam, Gulf War, and post-9/11 eras
  • Adds 20+ more presumptive conditions for burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic exposures
  • Adds more presumptive-exposure locations for Agent Orange and radiation
  • Requires VA to provide a toxic exposure screening to every Veteran enrolled in VA health care
  • Helps improve research, staff education, and treatment related to toxic exposures

If you’re a Veteran or survivor, you can file claims now to apply for PACT Act-related benefits. You can file a disability claim online or go to your nearest Veteran Service Organization .

Determining Exposure

The VA has developed a mobile application called Exposure Ed, designed to provide both VA and non-VA healthcare providers with access to environmental exposures information and resources. This tool can be used to have an informed discussion with Veterans about their individual exposure-related concerns and potential impacts on their health.

Exposure Ed provides “just-in-time” information and serves as a centralized, easy-to-access location for finding comprehensive environmental exposure information, referrals, and training. The app helps with earlier identification and awareness of conditions after exposure to environmental hazards that can affect the health of Veterans.

With Exposure Ed, you can find information about exposures organized by the type of exposure (such as Agent Orange or extreme heat), the date and location of a Veteran’s service, or the conflict in which they served. The app also allows you to create notes, access provider tips, and bookmark useful information.

Please note that this application should not be used for diagnostic purposes. It is a tool created by the Veteran’s Health Administration to aid in understanding potential exposures and their impacts.

           

 

Important Deadlines for PACT Act Benefits

Please note: There is no deadline to apply for PACT Act benefits. However, there are upcoming timelines that will require urgent action by some individuals.

If you file your PACT Act claim — or submit your intent to file — by Aug. 9, 2023, you may receive benefits backdated to Aug. 10, 2022. That’s the date when President Biden signed the legislation into law.

There also is a Sept. 30 deadline for some post-9/11 veterans to enroll for VA health care under a special one-year window opened by the PACT Act. The bill automatically assumes those who served in certain locations were exposed. Once they are enrolled, veterans’ individual cases will dictate what benefits they will receive.

The important part is to enroll in VA by the end of September. You can start here.

Here are some additional resources:

  • Need help? An accredited American Legion service officer provides free assistance to any veteran or family member. Find one near you by searching here.
  • File a claim online through VA’s website.
  • Submit an Intent to File online form for a VA claim. (Remember, the deadline is Aug. 9th, 2023.)
  • Visit VA.gov/PACT to learn about and apply for PACT Act-related care and benefits. You can also call 1-800-MYVA411 to apply over the phone.

Agent Orange: A Toxic Legacy

Agent Orange is a blend of tactical herbicides that the U.S. military sprayed in the jungles of Vietnam and around the Korean demilitarized zone to remove trees and dense tropical foliage that provided enemy cover. Many veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during service have developed various health issues, including several types of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

If you believe you were exposed to Agent Orange during your military service, the VA offers a variety of benefits, including a free Agent Orange Registry health exam for eligible Veterans. For more information, visit the VA’s Agent Orange page or our Agent Orange Blog that covers the generational effects of Agent Orange. 

Burn Pits: The New Agent Orange?

Burn pits were a common way to get rid of waste at military sites in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, many veterans who were exposed to burn pits have reported a range of health issues, including respiratory problems and cancer. The VA is currently conducting research to understand the health effects of exposure to burn pits.

If you were exposed to burn pits during your service, you can add your information to the VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, which can help you get medical treatment for related diseases. Visit the VA’s Burn Pits page for more information.

Resources for Coping with Toxic Exposure

Dealing with health issues related to toxic exposure can be challenging, but you don’t have to do it alone. There are many resources available to help you cope:

  • National Center for PTSD: Provides information and resources on PTSD, including various treatment options and ways to find help.
  • National Cancer Institute: Offers resources for coping with cancer, including managing physical effects, handling emotional and psychological challenges, and navigating financial issues.
  • American Heart Association: Provides resources on managing stress, which can be particularly beneficial for veterans dealing with heart conditions.

Remember, it’s okay to ask for help. Reach out to your healthcare provider, a trusted friend or family member, or a mental health professional if you’re struggling.

Additional Resources

Here are some additional resources that can help veterans dealing with toxic exposures:

Non-VA Resources

Here are some resources that are not affiliated with the VA that can help veterans dealing with toxic exposures:

  • Burn Pits 360: A non-profit organization dedicated to helping veterans who have been affected by exposure to burn pits.
  • The American Legion: Provides a variety of resources for veterans, including assistance with benefits claims and resources for veterans who have been exposed to toxic substances.
  • Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW): Provides assistance with filing VA claims, including claims related to toxic exposure, and offers a variety of other resources for veterans.
  • Disabled American Veterans (DAV): A nonprofit charity that provides a lifetime of support for veterans of all generations and their families.

Non-VA Local Help

Know A Vet? presents this information and these national resource directories, not as a recommendation of any specific service or provider, but as a starting point for your own research.

Please feel free to use the check sheets Before, During and After the Medical Appointment and Choosing a Medical Service Provider to help you in your search for the best help for your individual circumstances.

In addition, there may be other federal, state and local government or private resources for your individual needs.

VA, Government, and Organization Help

Know A Vet? presents this information and these national resource directories, not as a recommendation of any specific service or provider, but as a starting point for your own research.

Clicking here will bring you to a database of other VA services you can locate by zip code.

Please also check out our page on Filing Claims. We recommend that you do NOT file claims on your own.  If you do not file exactly the way the VA looks for information, it can take literally years for your claim to go back and forth before approval or denial.

The other resources listed, such as your local Veterans Service Office  (names vary by county), VSO counselor, VFW, etc., will help you determine what you are eligible for and file correctly for results in as little as a few weeks.