New initiatives around veterans benefits and compensation received prominent support from the White House during President Biden's State of the Union address Tuesday.
"The VA is pioneering new ways of linking toxic exposures to diseases, already helping more veterans get benefits," Biden noted about current efforts at the agency during his address. "We’re expanding eligibility to veterans suffering from nine respiratory cancers. I’m also calling on Congress: pass a law to make sure veterans devastated by toxic exposures in Iraq and Afghanistan finally get the benefits and comprehensive health care they deserve."
Earlier Tuesday, VA revealed plans to provide compensation for a list of less common respiratory cancers that can result from toxic particulate exposure.
“VA determined through a focused review of scientific and medical evidence there is biologic plausibility between airborne hazards, specifically particulate matter, and carcinogenesis of the respiratory tract, and that the unique circumstances of these rare cancers warrant a presumption of service connection,” the agency said in the press release.
These conditions include various larynx, trachea and lung cancers with a strong connection to airborne material.
The move is the latest in a string of efforts VA has been working on over the past year to expand disability benefits to veterans.
“Since August, VA has completed 16,537 claims, granting over 12,000 veterans and their survivors benefits for one or more conditions, leading to over $36 million in retroactive benefit payments,” the statement said.
The release from the White House also reaffirmed support for legislative efforts to “expand access to health care services and benefits for veterans impacted by environmental exposures.”
These planned efforts roll into a broader campaign within the Veterans Benefits Administration to both expand coverage for service-related conditions, as well as expedite the delivery of owed benefits.
VA has begun implementing new automation processes to ensure benefits are delivered in a timely manner, and that the addition of new presumptives does not slow the provision of other compensation.
This includes algorithms that automate the validation of claims for three separate conditions each quarter going forward, a process that is unifying the data-sharing efforts between VBA and Veterans Health administration, as well as its electronic health records program in streamlining VA services overall.
President Biden also revealed plans for medical debt relief to veterans made possible by some of these new processes.
"VA will streamline the request process and set a simple income threshold for receiving medical debt relief. The request process will include an online option for veterans and reduce the effort required by veterans to access relief. These changes will go into effect in the next 90 to 120 days," according to a White House fact sheet released Tuesday.