Veterans eligible to apply for PACT Act money need to be skeptical of any offers by third parties, such as law firms claiming they'll help lock in the benefits for a percentage.
The full name of the act, which went into effect in 2022, is the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act. It gave the potential to receive compensation to millions of veterans who were exposed to radiation and toxic chemicals while in uniform, going back to the 1960s.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) characterizes the PACT Act as history's "biggest expansion" of veterans benefits. It added 23 conditions related to toxic exposures, including hypertension (high blood pressure), that are now presumed to be related to a veteran's military service.
In an emailed statement, the VA also calls the PACT Act "a monumental opportunity for fraud." The department has specifically heard of offers to help vets file their claims for fees of up to 40% of a veteran's retroactive award and another 40% of the first year of entitlement payments.
However, the VA stressed that veterans can file their claims directly with the department and that it "will help you gather the necessary evidence to support it," with "accredited representatives" available: "Do not agree to pay an unaccredited individual."
Tips to Avoid PACT Act Fraud
Here are ways you can avoid getting scammed out of PACT Act benefits, according to the VA:
- Submit your application directly to the VA, either online or at a regional office. It's free to apply.
- Aggressive communications by third parties are meant to create a sense of urgency; don't fall for it.
- Companies that advertise their services in the media, rather than communicate directly, may also be predatory.
- Some for-profit companies use "VA" in their names to imply an affiliation with the department when there isn't one.
- Never sign a blank form that someone says they will fill out for you later.
- Don't give a third party such as a non-VA-accredited law firm full discretion to act on your behalf.
- Report suspected fraud to the VA Office of Inspector General, Federal Trade Commission and Better Business Bureau.
Amanda Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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