(WHNT) — While the PACT Act has been in the headlines a lot lately with a goal of helping veterans affected by toxic exposure receive healthcare benefits, now, there’s a new effort by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to help catch breast cancer early in some of those same veterans.

The VA already follows American Cancer Society guidelines for breast cancer screenings, so most vets become eligible for screenings and mammograms at age 40.

The VA has now expanded eligibility for breast cancer risk assessments and clinically appropriate mammograms, and staff said this move could save lives.

Now, vets under age 40 who may have been exposed to burn pits and other toxins during their service are eligible for breast cancer screenings and mammograms when clinically appropriate.

This move is part of the “Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas Service Act.”

Dr. Hendricks Thomas served in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq in 2005 where she was exposed to burn pits.

The VA said she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in 2018 and died in 2022, at age 42.

The goal of the act named in her honor is to diagnose and treat breast cancer in veterans as early as possible in hopes of sending it into remission.

According to the VA, these services are available to veterans who served in the following places and timeframes:

  • Iraq between Aug. 2, 1990, and Feb. 28, 1991, and from March 19, 2003, until VA determines burn pits are no longer used in Iraq.
  • The Southwest Asia theater of operations, including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Qatar (but not including Iraq), from Aug. 2, 1990, until VA determines burn pits are no longer used in such locations.
  • Afghanistan, Djibouti, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and Yemen from Sept. 11, 2001, until VA determines burn pits are no longer used in such locations.
  • Other locations and time periods as determined by the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry.

If you are a veteran interested in breast cancer risk assessment screenings, the VA said you should call your VA primary care provider or reach out to your local VA medical center.

More information on the Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas Service Act can be found here. More information about the PACT Act can be found here.