INDIANAPOLIS — As the U.S. celebrates Veterans Day on Saturday, the Department of Veterans Affairs is reminding vets about a new law that could help them if they were exposed to toxins during their service.
The PACT Act is something that Steve Decot, a Vietnam War veteran, tried taking advantage of but didn’t have any luck.
He served in 1970-1971 and said he was exposed to Agent Orange, a defoliant used heavily to clear the thick Vietnamese jungles.
The chemical has been linked to cancer, birth defects and other health conditions.
"I have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart issues, neuropathy and Crohn's disease, Decot said. “I have a lot of different things going on."
Congress passed the PACT Act in August 2022. It dedicated $20 billion to help veterans exposed to toxins during their time of service.
The benefits are both medical and compensation based. According to the VA this legislation has helped 550,000 service men and women since is passage. But they say many more likely qualify.
"Veterans just from the first Gulf War and with post 9/11 service, there are more than eight million," said Michael Stephens, director of the Indianapolis VA Regional Office. "But in order for us to tell if those veterans qualify, they need to file a claim."
Decot said the government turned down his claims.
"In late October I got a notice from them... saying all of my claims were denied, bang, bang, bang, bang,” Decot said. “That was it there was nothing."
This link lists the conditions that qualify veterans to take advantage of the PACT act. Even if veterans don't have one of those conditions the VA is encouraging them to file a claim.
"A disability doesn't have to be on that list," Stephens said. "If a veteran believes that they have anything any condition that is related to their military service, I encourage them to file a claim so we can see if it's related to military services."
As for Decot, he has a doctor’s appointment coming up that he hopes will give him the information he needs to get some financial help.
"Through the years I am probably at $250-$300 thousand out of my own pocket that I have had to pay," Decot said. "I just can't do it anymore. I'm retired now and I can't do that."
The VA tells WRTV’s Meredith Hackler that they have been in contact with Decot and they are going to work with him to see how they can help.
The VA is encouraging veterans who qualify to file a claim. You can do so by clickinghere.
If you have filed a claim but have been denied, there is a way to appeal. The VA recommends veterans call or visit the VA Indianapolis Regional Office, 575 North Pennsylvania St. Veterans can also visit the Indiana Veterans Center.