Thanks to the passage of the Honoring Our PACT Act of 2021 (full name: Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2021), VA now presumes a service connection for even more illnesses to toxic exposure suffered during many veterans’ time in service.
An official presumption of connection means that you do not need to provide a medical nexus—or connecting event—between your current diagnosis and your service record, as long as your service record indicates that you were present at a time and place in which VA acknowledges you were exposed to certain toxins.
An important category of illnesses covered by the Honoring Our PACT Act of 2022 are respiratory cancers “of any type”, which covers all breathing-related cancers that originate in the respiratory system.
This includes the following:
- Lung cancer
- Cancer of the trachea
- Cancer of the larynx
- Cancer of the bronchus
Respiratory cancers join a list of more than 20 other conditions, including many cancers, that are now considered presumptive based on toxic exposure to burn pits for veterans who were on active duty during the Gulf War era and the post-9/11 era. Additional conditions are considered presumptive based on exposure to Agent Orange, radiation, and toxins from several other incidents and locations.
If you develop a respiratory cancer and cannot take advantage of a presumption of service connection based on your service record, you may still apply for a direct service connection via the VA disability claims process. This will mean, however, that you will need to provide a medical nexus linking your service record to your current diagnosis.
Symptoms and Treatment for Lung Cancer and Respiratory Cancers
Worldwide, lung cancer is the second most common cancer, as well as the leading cause of cancer deaths. Its greatest risk factor is smoking. Though lung cancer may affect anyone, the best way to prevent it from happening is to not smoke and to avoid second-hand smoke.
Symptoms of lung cancer only appear once the disease is advanced. Common ones include:
- A cough that doesn’t go away
- Coughing up blood
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Unexplained weight loss
- Bone pain
Other types of respiratory cancer share a similar set of symptoms. Cancer of the trachea will often show itself in a dry cough, hoarseness, breathlessness, and difficult swallowing. Cancer of the larynx may cause hoarseness, voice changes, sore throat, earache, or the sensation of having a lump in your throat. Cancer of the bronchus may cause coughing, coughing up blood, and chest pain.
Tests to find lung cancer may include imaging tests like CT scans or X-Rays, sputum cytology, and biopsy. Treatment varies depending on your health, the type and stage of cancer, as well as your preferences. Common types of treatment include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, radiosurgery, targeted drug therapy, and immunotherapy.
VA Disability Ratings for Respiratory Cancers
Disability ratings for all respiratory cancers are covered by VA under Diagnostic Code in 38 CFR § 4.97, Schedule of Ratings – Respiratory System. As with other active (also known as malignant) cancers, VA grants an automatic disability rating of 100% for the duration of your illness, plus another 6 months following the completion of a successful period of treatment.
Following this period, VA will schedule a C&P examination to assess your condition and adjust your rating from there. If your cancer has gone into remission, VA will rate on the residuals of your illness.
Assistance With Your Claim
The Honoring Our PACT Act of 2021 made it significantly easier for veterans to apply for disability benefits that at one point they would have struggled to access. That doesn’t mean the claims process is not without its problems, though, and you will want to the best representation you can get to ensure that your claim is approved and you get the compensation you deserve. If you need assistance filing your first claim or appealing an unfavorable decision, contact VA Disability Group PLLC at 844-VET-LAWS.