By Pat Brink

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The largest expansion of VA Health benefits ever just took effect on March 5 and it could benefit more than 100,000 veterans in Minnesota.

In the past, only veterans who were exposed to toxins in specific locations were covered. Those veterans affected were to have been allowed to apply for this benefit in a staggered manner. Senator Amy Klobuchar worked to speed up the process by which veterans were eligible for benefits, beyond the 8,000 Minnesota vets who were originally allowed to apply.

With the new “Honoring our PACT Act,” Klobuchar says as many as 118 thousand Minnesota veterans may now be eligible to apply to receive VA health care. Veterans who served at home or abroad and were exposed to any kind of toxins are eligible for the VA health benefits.

One Minnesota veteran, Jerald Starks, had been diagnosed with AML a blood cancer. He had been deployed in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War.

That disease took his life just two and a half weeks ago.  Earlier this year the family wanted to move him to hospice care nearer to them but were concerned about the cost of transporting him. His family had badgered him to sign up for PACT, and thankfully he did.

Stark’s mother, Marie Holm, his wife and a brother want all veterans to know about the benefits change that will greatly impact them. “When I heard about the PACT Act early last spring I immediately told him that he needed to register, said Holm. “That he was eligible, that it applied to him, and initially he was reluctant, he didn’t need it right away, but being a mom he did it. HA HA,”

As soon as he signed up, the VA immediately paid for the ambulance ride to the hospice nearer his family.

Jerald Stark’s wife Michelle and his brother Andy want all veterans to know the benefits change. This will make them immediately eligible for VA health care.

“If I could just say one thing to every veteran out there, just sign up,” said Jerald’s brother.”

Michelle, his wife said, “You need to take steps right now to see if you qualify. Enroll in this because you have earned this care by serving your country. It could help save your life and it could help your family. ”