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The Veterans of Foreign Wars traces its roots back to 1899 when veterans of the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Philippine Insurrection (1899-1902) founded local organizations to secure rights and benefits for their service: Many arrived home wounded or sick. There was no medical care or veterans' pension for them, and they were left to care for themselves. 
In their misery, some of these veterans banded together and formed organizations with what would become known as the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. After chapters were formed in Ohio, Colorado and Pennsylvania, the movement quickly gained momentum. By 1915, membership grew to 5,000; by 1936, membership was almost 200,000. 
Since then, the VFW's voice had been instrumental in establishing the Veterans Administration, creating a GI bill for the 20th century, the development of the national cemetery system and the fight for compensation for Vietnam vets exposed to Agent Orange and for veterans diagnosed with Gulf War Syndrome. In 2008, VFW won a long-fought victory with the passing of a GI Bill for the 21st Century, giving expanded educational benefits to America's active-duty service members, and members of the Guard and Reserves, fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Besides helping fund the creation of the Vietnam, Korean War, World War II and Women in Military Service memorials, the VFW in 2005 became the first veterans' organization to contribute to building the new Disabled Veterans for Life Memorial, which opened in November 2010.
www.veteranscrisisline.net
 

Commander's Corner

Commander Brian Rodriguez

'Millions' of Veterans Exposed to Environmental Hazards Will Be Eligible for VA Health Care on March 5

By Patricia Kime,

1 day ago

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Millions of U.S. veterans will be eligible beginning March 5 for health care with the Department of Veterans Affairs under an accelerated effort to provide benefits and services to those exposed to toxic substances while serving.

The VA announced Monday that all veterans who have served in a combat zone since the Vietnam War, as well as those who participated in training or operations and came into contact with hazardous materials, will be able to enroll in VA health care.

 

The expansion of health care benefits was mandated by the PACT Act signed into law by President Joe Biden in August 2022 , which required the expansion to occur by 2032. VA officials said last month the acceleration is a result of a hiring blitz made possible by provisions in the law.

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"If you're a veteran who may have been exposed to toxins or hazards while serving our country, at home or abroad, we want you to come to us for the health care you deserve," VA Secretary Denis McDonough said Monday in a release.

Under the PACT Act, more than 100,000 veterans have enrolled in VA health care and roughly 760,000 disability claims have been approved. VA officials did not detail exactly how many veterans now will be eligible for care under the expansion but said the figure is in the "millions."

 

"Beginning March 5, we're making millions of veterans eligible for VA health care years earlier than called for by the PACT Act," VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Shereef Elnahal said. "We want to bring all of these veterans to VA for the care they've earned and deserve."

The expansion allows all veterans who deployed to combat zones in support of the Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan wars to enroll in VA health care.

In addition, veterans who never deployed but were exposed to pollutants while participating in a known "toxic exposure risk activity," or TERA, either in the U.S. or abroad, will be eligible.

That would include exposure while on active duty, active-duty training or inactive-duty training to: air pollutants from burn pits, particulate matter, sulfur or oil well fires; chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, contaminated water or depleted uranium from embedded shrapnel; occupational hazards such as lead, industrial solvents, toxic paint, asbestos and firefighting foam; radiation, including nuclear weapons handling, maintenance and detonation, X-rays and occupational exposure; and chemical or biological weapons or nerve agents.

 

According to the VA, the department will use service records and other resources to determine whether a veteran participated in a TERA.

Veterans are not required to have a service-connected disability or file a compensation claim to be eligible for VA care. New enrollees will have access to a toxic exposure screening provided by their primary care physician and may be referred to specialty care depending on need, Elnahal said during a call with reporters last month.

They also will be assessed for placement in the VA's priority-based health system and referred to the Veterans Benefits Administration if they qualify for additional benefits.

Priority group placement determines whether a veteran is required to make copayments for appointments or prescriptions, depending on treatment or the medications.

 

During a press conference Monday, Elnahal said that, by law, veterans receiving treatment for exposure-related illnesses will not make copayments for appointments related to that care.

"This is a real economic benefit opportunity for veterans but also a clinical benefit," Elnahal said.

The Veterans Health Administration has set a goal to hire 52,000 employees this fiscal year, which, when factoring in attrition, should grow its workforce by 3%. Elnahal said the increases could help to absorb new patients, meet demand and standardize -- or even improve -- wait times.

"Challenges abound with hiring for every single health care system, so we are not complacent at all," Elnahal said. "We're continuing to make the changes we need to make the hiring process better and faster."

 

The VA is encouraging veterans to apply for care or benefits by visiting the VA.gov/PACT website or calling 1-800-MYVA411.



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