EL PASO COUNTY — One of the most important pieces of congressional legislation signed into law recently is the PACT Act. President Biden put pen to paper last August and it provides new and expanded relief for our veterans who may have been exposed to life-changing toxic substances while they served.
Now, local agencies, including the El Paso County Veterans Services Center in conjunction with the Veterans Administration want to get the word out about the benefits to them and the financial relief available.
The ravages of war, no matter the era can leave scars that last a lifetime. But what about those scars that were caused by unconventional exposure during wartime or overseas deployment?
I recently spoke with Charles Graves, assistant veterans services officer for the El Paso County Veterans Services Center who told me about the more common toxic exposures our veterans experienced, "Agent Orange is the big one for the Vietnam war and then we've got the burn pits for the Gulf War, where you basically had pits where veterans were burning things that can cause cancers and a lot of other lung conditions." Graves says that exposure to radiation, no matter the source is also on the list of toxic exposure that the VA is focusing on through the Pact Act benefits program.
One of the most important aspects of the Pact Act is the additional health conditions that veterans can file a claim for and get financial relief and there are literally dozens of them, meaning you may have filed a previous claim and it got rejected, but under these new guidelines you are encouraged to re-apply because you may qualify now, so it's important to reach out to the V-A or the county veterans services center to understand the changes and how you and your family may benefit.
Once you reach out you can sign up for a monthly seminar hosted by the El Paso County Veterans Services Center at theirheadquarters in Colorado Springs, right behind the Costco at Powers and Barnes.
I spoke with Jim and Judy Hammond at a recent seminar who were asked to attend so they could learn more about what the program is all about. Jim is a Vietnam War veteran who flew choppers during two tours and was exposed to Agent Orange, suffering prostate cancer as a result. While they had no real expectations regarding the seminar, they welcomed the opportunity to get screened to see if they would qualify for additional benefits.
In El Paso County alone it's estimated between 10 and 25 percent of the nearly 100,000 veterans would qualify under the new PACT Act guidelines and while the recent seminar I attended was packed for both the morning and afternoon sessions, the ranks of those who qualify for claims, take advantage of the free screenings or just sign up for the VA healthcare program, needs to grow.
Graves emphasized how important this is in the overall picture of providing more money and services locally, "The more veterans that enroll into VA healthcare the more providers and resources that we can get to this county for those veterans." He went on to tell me that if you don't sign up we are losing out on important resources for our area generally and for veterans and their families, they're losing out on money.
And while money is a great motivator, and this is important, the reality is there are now expanded opportunities available to treat our local veterans which are long overdue. To help heal those wounds and also serve as a gesture of recognition and respect from this country for their service, something money can't buy.
A reminder, again, that these monthly sessions have limited capacity so veterans you are encouraged to reach out to the El Paso County Veterans Services Center for more information on what you need to do to be a part of the program. Time is of the essence, the sooner you sign up and get your screening and analysis done, and each is taken on its own individual merits, the more quickly you may receive the benefits you deserve and that could be as soon as six months.
El Paso County Veterans Services Center
Veterans Affairs: Colorado Springs Vet Center