HUNTSVILLE, Ala (WHNT) — A key deadline is approaching for veterans to get backdated benefits for health problems due to toxic exposure in the service.

That deadline is August 9, 2023, but that doesn’t mean vets and their survivors can’t apply for those benefits after August 9.

Staff with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) say for veterans struggling with health problems due to toxic exposure, those back-paid benefits, could make a huge difference.

According to the VA, the PACT Act, formally known as the Sergeant First Class (SFC) Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, expands VA health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits, agent orange, and other toxic substances.

President Joe Biden signed the act into law on August 10, 2022.

That action added 20 health conditions to the list of those presumed to be caused by toxic exposure.

Since the law went on the books last August, more than 600,000 veterans and their survivors have filed PACT Act claims.

Josh Jacobs, VA Under Secretary for Benefits, told our sister station WFLA that the VA wants more applications.

“What we’re trying to do is beat the previous records to get more veterans to file for the benefits they earned and deserve,” Jacobs said. “We think there are millions more veterans who are eligible. So, one of the things we want to do is to make sure veterans know about the law and apply for the benefits they earned.”

In the interview with WFLA, Jacobs also addressed complaints over loss of confidence in the VA due to benefits denials and delays.

“VA wants to serve you as well as you served this country and we want the opportunity to earn your trust or re-earn it,” he said.

Terri Womack is the VA benefits team lead with Still Serving Veterans in Huntsville.

Womack said it’s important for vets who are impacted to apply as soon as they can.

“I would suggest to go ahead and go to the website. It says start an intent to file. Go ahead and put it in,” Womack said. “If you have those presumptive conditions that they list on the VA website, if you’re getting current treatment for those, I would pull those treatment records and I would make an appointment at a local veteran service organization and try to put in that claim.”

Jacobs emphasized that veterans who file claims before August 9, the day before the first anniversary of the law, may qualify for a year of retroactive payments.

However, that doesn’t mean vets and survivors can’t apply after August 9.

“It’s not that people are not going to be able to apply for toxin exposure, but it may not pay back to the August 9, 2022,” Womack explained. “There’s no need to really worry, but there may be more money involved in back pay if you go ahead and get in the intent to file or go ahead and submit the claim.”

The VA’s website encourages veterans to file by Aug. 9 to get back-dated benefits.

“File your PACT Act claim by August 9 to be eligible for backdated benefits,” the website said. “There’s no deadline to apply for PACT Act benefits. But if you file your PACT Act claim—or quickly submit your intent to file—by August 9, 2023, you may receive benefits backdated to August 10, 2022. So don’t wait, apply today.”

For more information on the PACT Act or to file a claim online you can visit the VAs Website here.