Veterans Affairs healthcare eligibility expanded

Published 6:45 pm Tuesday, March 12, 2024

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By Thomas Mastaglio

This month, we are featuring two veteran’s benefits programs that, while they have been in

the news, it is important that all veterans are fully aware of and how to apply for them.

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Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare eligibility has been expanded to include all veterans

exposed to toxins and other hazards during military service at home or abroad, effective

March 5. This specifically includes anyone in the following categories:

  • Veterans who served in the Vietnam War
  • Veterans who served in the Gulf War
  • Veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • Any Veteran who served in a combat zone after 09/11/2001.

This expansion also covers veterans who never deployed but were exposed to toxins or

hazards while serving. Specifically, under this expansion of care, any veteran who

participated in a toxic exposure risk activity (TERA) – at home or abroad – is eligible for

VA health care. Included are training events and operational duties involving exposure to

air pollutants, occupational hazards, radiation, and warfare agents (chemical and


Some veterans believe they must receive VA disability compensation benefits to be eligible

for VA health care; this is not true. With this expansion and other authorities, millions of

veterans can enroll directly in VA care – without any need to first apply for VA benefits.

Originally, the Pact Act had a phased-in approach for the above groups, but at the direction

of the president, the VA has opened access to their healthcare facilities effective March 5,


Readers who are eligible and not already receiving care under the VA healthcare system

are encouraged to enroll. Or, if you know a veteran who might be eligible, encourage them

to enroll at, by

phone at 877-222-8387, or by visiting a local VA medical facility.  

You can review the VA’s official statement here: In one of the largest-ever expansions of

Veteran health care (

Keep in mind that some VA healthcare benefits will depend on your financial status and

may require the use of other healthcare insurance you already have.

The second benefits program has had a lot of publicity, not all of it correct – service at

Camp Lejeune, resulting in exposure to contaminated water. The deadline for filing a claim

for illness pertaining to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune is Aug.1 of this year. If

you served there between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987, for at least 30 days, you can file a claim.

You must provide documentation:

  • Proof of residence at Lejeune
  • Military service records indicating dates and locations served
  • Medical records and diagnoses

You do not need legal representation to submit a claim. Please contact the local service

officer of either the VFW or American Legion for assistance. If you have any questions, call



Thomas Mastaglio is a U.S. Army veteran who serves as media officer at American Legion Post 49.