Darron Rasmussen was like a lot of soldiers who became Veterans thanks to the Vietnam War — he did his job, fulfilled his commitment and then came home.
Serving with the U.S. Air Force, he was stationed at an air base in Thailand, where he was a fuel supply specialist. He didn’t see any fighting, and the base was never attacked while he was there.
But he did see something unfamiliar to him and many of his comrades — Agent Orange. Used to clear the thick jungle brush, the chemical contained herbicides and was sprayed out by low-flying planes.
“I was wet all over,” Darren said, remembering his exposure to Agent Orange.
However, he didn’t recall feeling ill from the chemical and didn’t think much about it.
Darron is now 76 and has Parkinson’s disease. Previously when he tried to get benefits from VA to help with his treatment, he was denied.
But last year, when the PACT Act was signed into law, that all changed. He is now getting benefits linked to his exposure to Agent Orange, and for that, he and his wife Sharon are very grateful.
“What a relief. What a blessing,” Sharon said of the benefits. “It really is a blessing.”
The PACT Act is perhaps the largest health care and benefit expansion in VA history. It:
- Expands and extends eligibility for VA health care for Veterans with toxic exposures and Veterans of the Vietnam, Gulf War and post-9/11 eras.
- Adds 20-plus presumptive conditions for burn pits, Agent Orange and other toxic exposures.
- Adds more presumptive-exposure locations for Agent Orange and radiation.
- Requires VA to provide a toxic exposure screening to every Veteran enrolled in VA health care.
- Helps us improve research, staff education and treatment related to toxic exposures.
While Veterans exposed to Agent Orange have been eligible for benefits in the past, the qualifying conditions were much narrower than they are now under the PACT Act. Darron is benefiting from the addition of more exposure locations, including Thailand.
“When he started getting Parkinson’s (in 2016), we applied for benefits but were denied,” Sharon said. “But when the PACT Act came through, we resubmitted everything, and we were approved.”
Sharon said the process required a lot of paperwork but was well worth it. She thanked Brown County Veterans Service Office Joe Aulik for his help in securing the new PACT Act benefits.
“I can’t say enough about him,” she said. “He’s so helpful and kind.”
The new benefits help pay for Darron’s treatment. In addition, Sharon receives benefits as she has been approved as an official caregiver for her husband.
“The VA pays for his care now, which is nice because everything is getting so expensive,” Sharon said, noting that the couple moved out of their home and into an apartment a few years ago but have seen their rent continually increase. “It’s wonderful that we have (those benefits) now.”
“I think it’s great. It sure helps out my situation a lot,” he said.
The Rasmussens lived in New London, Wis., for 18 years before moving into their apartment in De Pere. They have three sons and a daughter. Their far-flung family reaches from Portland, Ore., to Arizona, with eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Sharon said the new benefits from the PACT Act allowed her to visit her son in Portland while their granddaughter came to De Pere to serve as Darron’s secondary caregiver while she was gone. As an eligible family caregiver, Sharon also qualified for respite care benefits.
“That’s a wonderful benefit,” she said.
While the PACT Act has helped her family, Sharon said she hopes other Veterans are applying for the expanded benefits as well.
“I hope they're getting what we're getting,” she said. “I think it's wonderful that they finally did something for the Veterans — and not just the old Veterans but the young Veterans as well who are struggling.”
To apply for PACT Act benefits, contact your County Veterans Service Officer at www.wicvso.org or call 1-844-947-2876.
A PACT Act awareness symposium will take place May 20 in Green Bay. Learn more here.