Veterans Disability Info Blog

Recent Policy Changes Affecting Veterans’ Disability Benefits

If you are a veteran with a current diagnosis of a condition or disability related to your service, then recent changes in policy could impact your access to VA disability benefits, as well as the amount that you receive. In this article we’ll consider a few recent policy changes that have not only expanded access to VA health care and tax-free disability payments for the veterans these changes apply to, but also cost-of-living adjustments for many VA disability benefits. 

We’ll begin with a consideration of the PACT Act, which concerns toxic exposure in part. Then, we’ll move on to Camp Lejeune and MCAS New River, where contaminated water has been found to be linked to a number of health conditions among veterans who served there during certain periods. In an effort to keep pace with price changes in the economy, we’ll also consider how the VA has adopted the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to incorporate cost-of-living adjustments into VA disability benefits. 

Changes in Policy Can Expand Your VA Disability Access 

News items such as those explored here could mean that you are entitled to additional or expanded VA disability benefits. When this is the case, you are able to file what is called a supplemental claim. Supplemental claims are for appeals of denials within one year, or to reopen a previously denied claim that was denied more than one year earlier. 

Determining what your rights are under legislative changes can be difficult, and if you think you may qualify for expanded VA disability benefits, one of our VA benefits attorneys can help. 

The PACT Act Expands Access to VA Health Care and Compensation

As a result of the Sergeant First Class (SFC) Heath Robinson Honoring our Promises to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, VA health care and compensation benefits have been expanded to new populations of veterans, particularly those who were exposed to: 

The PACT Act has added to the list of health conditions that are presumed to be linked to periods of qualifying active service, making it easier for affected veterans to collect the compensation they deserve. 

The purpose of the PACT Act is to support the enactment of the following: 

  • Expand and extend VA healthcare eligibility for veterans with toxic exposure, as well as for veterans of the Vietnam, Gulf War, as well as post-9/11 eras 
  • To add over 20 presumptive conditions for Agent Orange, burn pits, and exposure to other toxins 
  • Additional presumptive-exposure locations have been added concerning Agent Orange as well as radiation
  • The VA is required to provide toxic exposure screening to every veteran who is enrolled in VA healthcare 
  • To improve on research, staff education, and treatment options linked to toxic exposures 

If you are a veteran or a surviving family member, you can file a PACT Act-related benefits claim now. 

Camp Lejeune and MCAS New River Chemical Exposure

As you may have noticed based upon an uptick in commercials on television for legal and other assistance, veterans and their families who were impacted by tainted drinking water and environmental chemicals at Camp Lejeune and MCAS New River, North Carolina are entitled to VA disability benefits if they have developed certain conditions. 

To qualify for these newly expanded benefits, you must meet the following basic requirements: 

  • You must have served on active duty in the Armed Forces or qualifying organization between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, and;
  • You served at either Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune or at the Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River, North Carolina; 
  • Your period of service was at minimum, a total of 30 days between these dates; 
  • Upon discharge from the military, your status must not have been dishonorable;
  • You have a current diagnosis of a listed condition that is linked to the chemical exposure that veterans and their families experienced at these locations.

Upon having met these requirements, and when you have a condition on the following list, your condition is presumed to be linked to your qualifying active service without the need for a nexus letter. 

To qualify for Camp Lejeune or MCAS New River-related benefits, you must meet the time and place requirements above and have a diagnosis of one or more of these conditions:

  • Multiple myeloma
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Liver cancer
  • Adult leukemia 
  • Bladder cancer
  • Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma 

When you meet these conditions, the link between your service and your current condition is “presumed,” and you are eligible to receive coverage. 

Impacted Family Members May Be Eligible for Benefits

Military members were not the only individuals who were impacted by the tainted drinking water at Camp Lejeune and MCAS New River. When the family of service members has been impacted, they are eligible to receive health care coverage without a copay for the related condition or conditions or to be reimbursed for past health care. Unlisted conditions may still lead to health care coverage, although with a copay. 

To be eligible, the family member must have lived at Camp Lejeune or MCAS New River during the same time period listed above and have one of the following conditions: 

  • Leukemia 
  • Breast cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Miscarriage
  • Renal toxicity
  • Lung cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Hepatitis steatosis
  • Female infertility 
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Scleroderma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes

Family members are eligible to receive VA health care coverage for other conditions, although they may need to pay benefits for coverage that is not part of those conditions listed above. 

Conditions Linked to Camp Lejeune and Agent Orange are “Presumptive” 

The recent changes due to the PACT Act and Camp Lejeune-related legislation are based upon a concept known as “presumptive conditions.” If particular base conditions are met, then you do not need to have a nexus letter to link your current diagnosis to your qualifying active service. 

In most situations, to be eligible to collect VA disability compensation, the following must apply to you: 

  • You served in qualifying active duty in a branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, Reserves, National Guard, or other covered organization 
  • Your discharge status was other than dishonorable 
  • You have a current diagnosis of a condition 
  • Your condition was caused by an injury, illness, or other event during your qualifying active service
  • You have an expert medical opinion that demonstrates a link, or nexus, between your current condition and your active service

When you meet the standards of a presumptive condition as with Agent Orange or Camp Lejeune, you do not need to demonstrate a nexus, the final point listed above. If you were present in a particular place during a particular time period and developed a certain condition, the VA will cover your health care and provide VA disability payments in line with its impact on your day-to-day life and ability to work. There is no need to pursue an expert medical opinion to review your service history, current medical status, and generate a report on whether they are linked. 

The Veterans Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) Act of 2023 

Veterans struggling with the rise of inflation and the cost of goods will be experiencing some relief given a recent executive action and change in law. President Joe Biden signed the COLA Act of 2023 into law in June of 2023. The Act directs the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to institute a cost-of-living adjustment for veterans benefits in 2024 that is equal to the COLA that is applied to Social Security benefits, an adjustment that is decided by the Social Security Administration (SSA). 

The COLA Act of 2023 received broad support in government and was passed alongside bi-partisan support in both the House and Senate. The legislation is an annual procedure for Congress and must be done annually to ensure that veterans receive a cost-of-living adjustment to help benefits maintain pace with changes in the financial environment. 

The Cost of Living Adjustment Only Affects Certain Benefits 

While it would be ideal if the entirety of your VA disability benefits received an increase as a result of the COLA Act of 2023, the increase does not affect all benefits. It does impact areas including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Disability compensation – this is the tax-free monthly payment available from the VA when a veteran’s condition impacts their ability to generate an income 
  • Dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) for military spouses and children – military spouses and family members eligible for DIC likewise experience a COL increase to account for inflation and other economic changes 
  • Clothing allowance – when a service-connected disability like orthopedics or a wheelchair requires special clothing or damaged clothing, an annual or one-time allowance is available and also adjusts for inflation 

While the exact amount that next year’s compensation amounts will be adjusted is unknown at this time, the anchor that sets it is. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) provides the basis for the changes to your veterans benefits, which measures the average change in the prices of services and goods in prior years. The CPI is used by the SSA to determine the annual cost-of-living adjustment your veterans benefits receive, and thanks to the COLA Act of 2023, VA disability benefits also experience these same increases. 

The most recent cost-of-living adjustment applied to VA benefits was in January of 2023, which resulted in an 8.7% increase in veterans’ benefits after years of high inflation. Each year the COLA is reset by the Social Security Administration, and each year the VA then moves to enact these changes. The 2024 COLA will be announced during the next fiscal year for the government, which starts on October 1. The VA then pegs its compensation payment rates to match, and the new amounts will be factored into the January 2024 payment that veterans receive. 

Cost-of-Living Increases are Automatic 

Cost-of-living adjustments are implemented automatically by the VA annually, and so there are no actions that you must undergo in order to receive them. Be wary of advertisements from companies offering to “coach” you or to provide you with “education” at a cost about any policy changes related to your VA benefits. Most information is available for free from the VA in-person, online, or by request through the mail. When you have needs that go beyond what a VA representative can provide for free, oftentimes an experienced VA benefits lawyer can help. 

Taking advantage of the above listed policy changes concerning Agent Orange and Camp Lejeune, however, require the filing of VA disability applications. 

Get Help From a VA Disability Attorney Now

For your initial VA disability application, you’ll file VA Form 21-526EZ, which can be completed in-person, online, or through the mail. In your initial application you need to demonstrate a current condition, and that it was related to your qualifying active service. Free assistance is available at your local VA office, online, or over the phone for this stage. 

If your initial VA disability application was denied, your condition has worsened, or you have an additional condition that has developed, a VA disability attorney at our firm can assist you. Our VA benefits attorneys are standing by to provide a risk-free, cost-free assessment of your appeal or supplemental claim, and if we take your case we handle as much of the process on your behalf as possible so you can focus on your life. 

We are Here to Help

If you are having trouble obtaining benefits, contact us online or at 888.878.9350 to discuss your case.