Veterans Advocate for Inclusion in PACT Act Benefits as Thousands Face DenialsGo Back to News and Updates
Ex-Army linguist Julie Akey believes that her exposure to the solvent trichloroethylene (TCE) at Fort Ord caused her blood cancer, multiple myeloma, which she was diagnosed with at the young age of 46. Even while the PACT Act covers environmental exposures for millions of veterans abroad, it does not address possible health hazards from pollution on US soil, such as Fort Ord and Fort McClellan.
In 2022, lawmakers passed the PACT Act to help veterans who had been exposed to burn pits or pollution overseas get the medical treatment they needed more quickly and get other benefits. Akey and other veterans who attribute their diseases to exposure at American military bases have the formidable challenge of establishing that their ailments are "service connected."
Some of the veterans at Fort McClellan have been diagnosed with uncommon malignancies and other serious health problems after being exposed to possible pollution from a nearby Monsanto factory. A former Army commander named Bill Bonk draws attention to the inequality by saying, "there are thousands and thousands of Fort McClellan veterans suffering."
Jim Seaman, a naval captain and wife of Betty, died of lung cancer in Japan at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, where a commercial incinerator was located. There was cause for worry over possible hazardous exposure when three members of Seaman's family acquired cancer.
It is still difficult to draw a direct line from environmental exposure to health problems, and studies on the subject are often contentious. Despite assurances from government authorities on the safety of Fort Ord's water, Akey continues to encounter rejections for her VA claim, even though she is well-prepared with studies on TCE exposure.
Efforts to address domestic exposures are continuously being highlighted by the PACT Act. Workers at nuclear missile stations are the subject of an Air Force investigation into a possible cluster of cancers. We anticipate the results of the VA's epidemiological research on Fort McClellan in 2024. Among the 359 locations that need remediation, the Department of Defense is conducting tests to determine the extent of PFAS contamination at military facilities.
A former Marine and current spokesperson for the Disabled American Veterans, Shane Liermann, says, "Too many veterans are not going to have access to what they need to survive." He stresses the need for immediate action.
Even without a presumed link, veterans are encouraged to claim by VA Secretary Denis McDonough, but the procedure is still quite challenging. Although it has the power to do so, the VA has not expanded the list of presumed diagnoses or made connecting to services any easier.
Challenges arise for Akey's VA claim despite her spreadsheet, including over 1,300 ill Fort Ord residents. Her frustrations stem from the VA's unwillingness to recognize her disease and the delays in her treatment. Betty Seaman's description of the PACT Act's claims procedure as "very restrictive" indicates this view.
Even though the PACT Act has raised awareness and stimulated research, impacted veterans demand faster results. Investigating cancer clusters and PFAS levels is commendable, but research must speed up if veterans' health requirements are to be addressed.
Akey is still in a challenging position, fighting for both her rights and the rights of the many others who are facing rejections while the VA thinks about expanding the PACT Act's list of presumed diseases to include blood cancers.
As they fight for equality and inclusion, veterans and their allies keep pushing for full benefits, pleading with the government to acknowledge the harmful effects of environmental exposures on American military bases on veterans' health.
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