KRTV: Military veterans discuss PACT Act in Great Falls

by Aneesa Coomer

Toxic exposure veterans shared their experiences and the benefits of the PACT Act that have recently expanded, and to urge those previously turned away to try again.

Military veterans who were exposed to toxins during their service gathered at a forum hosted by U.S. Senator Jon Tester in Great Falls on Thursday, March 28, 2024.

The veterans shared their experiences and discussed the benefits of the federal PACT Act, which has recently been expanded, and urged those previously turned away to try again.

One attendee of the session, Black Eagle VFW Chaplain and Service Officer Jim Porter, expressed his previous frustration with the VA for denying healthcare until it’s too late.

Of the PACT Act, Porter says, “I think it’s absolutely terrific.”

He talked about previous encounters with members trying to receive healthcare: “The only regret that I have is that they deny and deny and they deny, until the gentleman, or lady, has passed away and then it’s approved. Fortunately, the service officers go after their families and say ‘Hey look, we can get you some retroactive here, you’re worth some money’, and that’s good. I have worked as a day service officer and some of the stories you hear, it’s a crime. And I’ve always told all of them, look, do not ever take no for an answer”.

VA officials say that as of March 5, all veterans who served in the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, or in Iraq, Afghanistan or any other combat zones after 9/11 are able to enroll directly in VA healthcare without first applying for VA benefits. Those who didn’t deploy but were exposed to hazards while training or on active duty in the U.S. will also be eligible.

“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,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “VA is proven to be the best, most affordable health care in America for Veterans – and once you’re in, you have access for life. So don’t wait, enroll starting March 5th.”

The PACT Act expanded health care benefits for veterans who experienced toxic exposures like burn pits.

It initially called for phasing in veterans’ eligibility over time. VA leaders say the change means millions more will be able to enroll at once – some up to eight years ahead of schedule.

You can go to or call 1 (800) MYVA411 to get more information on available benefits and how to apply.