Column – Veterans Affairs healthcare eligibility expanded

Published 5:53 pm Friday, March 15, 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.

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 biological).

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, 2024.

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 1-800-827-1000.

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