RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — More veterans who have been exposed to toxic substances are now eligible for Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits and they’re taking advantage.

The PACT Act expands VA health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic substances. It essentially adds to the list of health conditions that are caused by exposure to these kinds of substances.

Daniel Gade, the Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services, says that veterans who have a variety of conditions including asthma, brain cancer, lung disease and melanoma are eligible to file a claim.

The PACT Act extends health care for veterans of the Vietnam, Gulf War and post-9/11 eras. Surviving family members are also eligible. It also adds more than 20 more presumptive conditions for burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic exposures. Burn pits are a common way for the military to get rid of human waste and chemicals.

Peter Van Dermark served in the navy in the 1960’s. He was just 17 years old when he joined the United States Navy in 1963. Van Dermark was stationed in several locations across the country, like Virginia Beach and Newfoundland, Canada.

Vab Dermark said he now is fighting cancer, plaque buildup in his arteries, bronchitis and kidney disease.

“Never, ever, has the VA acknowledged, not one of these four conditions,” Van Dermark said. “I filed claims with the VA in February of last year. PACT act came out and SHAD came out only this past summer.”

According to the guidelines, if a veteran was part of chemical and biological warfare testing through Project 112 or Project Shipboard Hazard and Defense (SHAD), they may be at risk for certain illnesses. According to the VA, the Department of Defense conducted this testing from 1962 to 1974. It happened aboard ships and on land in various locations.

Van Dermark said he experienced the testing during his service.

“I have three buddies who died. All three of them were also stationed at the naval station Argentia in Newfoundland, Canada,” Van Dermark said. “They died. I know for sure, two died from cancer.”

The VA is required to provide a toxic exposure screening to every Veteran enrolled in VA health care. Gade told 8News there 700,000 veterans in Virginia, and veterans across the country have been fighting for help.

“The PACT Act 2022 is probably the biggest change to veterans benefits that we’ve seen essentially in our lifetime,” Gade said. “For a lot of veterans, this is going to be kind of a lifeline.”

If you’re a veteran and have a condition or disability, you can make an appointment with the Virginia Department of Veteran Services for free to get help filing a claim.

“There are a lot of veterans out there who have some of these conditions and who had been previously denied benefits or denied access to health care because the condition that they have was not deemed by the VA to be related to service,” Gade said. “We are assessing on an individual basis and we’re filing claims.”