WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — The PACT Act, passed in August of 2022, was one of the largest expansions of VA healthcare. A part of the expansion includes an open enrollment opportunity that ends on Sept. 30, 2023.
“It gives them an opportunity to see a health care provider and take care of any issue that they feel that’s warranted by the military,” outreach coordinator for the Robert J. Dole VA Tamara Thomas said. “It saves them on having civilian overhead costs when the VA can take care of those in their toxic screening. It allows us as combat veterans to go into the VA because the VA knows best about the military exposures that we went through. And it allows us to get that medical taken care of that we wouldn’t have on the civilian side.”
The open enrollment opportunity is for veterans who deployed to a combat zone, never enrolled in VA healthcare, and left active duty between Sept. 11, 2001, and Oct. 1, 2013. They can enroll directly in VA healthcare without first applying for VA benefits.
Sgt. Ray Lewis benefited from part of the PACT Act expansion, extending his application window from five years to 10 years. Initially, he was paying for his own insurance because he had no idea what he was eligible for.
“As a veteran, I didn’t know this existed without Tamera telling me. I didn’t think it was anything I was worthy of or deserved,” Sgt Lewis said. “In talking to her, hey, this is a benefit the government is giving you that you’ve heard right based on where you’ve been deployed.”
Even if you don’t need the care now, you may need it in the future. After Sept. 30, income will be a factor rather than purely service connection.
Sgt Lewis was in served for over 30 years.
“Iran, UAE, Turkey, flew over Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, flew over all those areas,” Sgt Lewis said. “And of course, there’s always burning something over there. Who knows what exposure or whatever, and so this is a benefit that we’re getting now. And the VA is going to take care of that. And that’s, that’s huge because I didn’t realize that.”
The Sept. 30 deadline is for a specific group of veterans, but there are many other opportunities still available for other veterans.
Sgt Lewis said because he isn’t disabled, he didn’t think he was qualified.
“I’m not going to get a rating. I don’t get this,” Sgt Lewis said. “And she’s like, you sacrificed your body for 30-plus years to the military. You got no idea what you’ve been exposed to. You’ve got aches and pains and all sorts of stuff. You know, being a boom operator for 31 years, that’s rough on the body. Don’t look at it as your disability or you are disabled; look at it as it’s a benefit you’ve earned.”