NewsBytes August 25, 2023    

In this issue:
Legislative Update: Major Richard Star Act
First Year of PACT Act
Military Suicide Rate Increases
PDBR Review of Disability Claims Continues

Legislative Update: Major Richard Star Act 

FRA-supported bills to provide concurrent receipt for service members unable to complete 20 years of service due to combat-related injuries (HR 1282/S. 344) are a top priority for the Association. The House Armed Services Committee unanimously approved the House version (HR 1282). The bill now goes to the House floor for further consideration. FRA and other like-minded groups are urging the House to have a vote on this legislation in September. Over two-thirds of the House (326) and Senate (70) are co-sponsoring the “Major Richard Star Act”.  Legislators are beginning to understand that reducing a retiree’s retired pay because they are disabled is an injustice! Members are strongly urged to continue using the FRA Action Center to urge your legislators to support this legislation.   

First Year of PACT Act  

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) screened more than 4 million veterans in the first year of the new comprehensive veteran’s toxic exposure law (PACT Act - Public Law 117-168) to find out if they thought they had been exposed to toxins during their military service. Of those veterans, 1.7 million had "screened positive" for possible exposure. The vast majority of those screened were already enrolled in VA health care. As a result, the VA is reaching out to those veterans, encouraging them to file a supplemental claim that could potentially increase benefits. 

The PACT Act linked a variety of medical conditions with toxins common during specific eras or circumstances of military service. Rather than requiring veterans or their survivors to prove that a toxic exposure caused a given condition, the law assumes that some illnesses are service-connected if the person served in a certain place at a certain time. This means that veterans may be eligible for additional VA benefits based on past toxic exposure during their service. 

Veterans who already have a partial VA disability rating could have their rating increased now that the VA covers more conditions under the PACT Act, and they do not need to be concerned that applying could possibly cause their rating to decrease. An increased rating could provide a significant increase in monthly compensation, especially for veterans with dependents.  

Even those veterans who already receive the maximum (100 percent) monthly disability benefit should file a PACT Act claim if they think they have a condition that is newly covered under the PACT Act. Doing so could benefit not only the veterans now but their families later. The veterans themselves may, depending on their condition, qualify for additional benefits if they need, for example, aid and attendance in everyday living or specially adapted housing. Also establishing a service connection could ultimately help with burial, such as providing an allowance for costs. 

The VA notes that survivors of deceased veterans who already receive the VA's Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) probably will not benefit from filing a toxic exposure claim now unless they have an increase in their veteran's disability rating. Surviving family members who already receive VA Survivors pension could become eligible for DIC instead if their service member died of a newly presumptive condition. 

Veterans or survivors who need help filing a PACT Act claim can walk into a VA regional office to ask for help in person, A regional VA office may offer both in-person and virtual visits. VA staffers at the VA Benefits Hotline (800-827-1000) and VA Health Benefits Hotline (877-222-8387) can also answer questions to help veterans.  

Military Suicide Rate Increases 

The Pentagon has recently reported that suicide rates among active-duty military personnel saw a 25 percent increase in the first quarter of 2023 compared to the same period last year. The suicide rate data was revealed in the recent quarterly report by the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, which found the total number of active-duty suicides was recorded at 94, up from 75 during the first quarter of 2022. 

The Army suffered the most significant surge in suicide deaths, with an increase from 37 to 49. The Marine Corps saw an increase from eight to 14. The Air Force had one more suicide compared to 2022, and there was no change in the suicide rates within either the Navy or Space Force. The Pentagon’s data shows a rising trend in military suicides over the past decade, including a pronounced spike in 2020 with the coronavirus pandemic.  

The Defense Suicide Prevention Office noted that the numbers in the report are preliminary and are subject to change upon further investigations and reports of previously unknown suicide cases. The Pentagon’s comprehensive yearly study on military suicides, set to analyze the data from 2022, is due for release in October. According to the Pentagon there is still a gradual increasing trend for suicide in the military over a 10-year period. 

Service members and veterans in need of immediate help can reach out to the Veterans Crisis Line by dialing 988 and pressing “1,” or text 838255, or visit 

PDBR Review of Disability Claims Continues  The Physical Disability Board of Review (PDBR) was created by an FRA-supported provision in the FY2008 Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that reassesses the accuracy and fairness of combined disability ratings of 20 percent or less for service members who were separated from service, rather than medically retired because of medical conditions.     To be eligible for a PDBR review, service members must have been medically separated between Sept. 11, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2009, with a combined disability rating of 20 percent or less and found ineligible for retirement. According to, only 19,000 of the more than 71,000 eligible have requested a review of their claim. The PDBR claims that more than half of the reviewed claims have been upgraded to a disability rating of 30 percent or more.     The review panel is authorized to recommend an increase in a disability rating, uphold the previous finding, or issue a disability rating when the previous board did not assign one. The board, however, is NOT able to recommend a lower rating. Eligible veterans can request a board review by submitting a Department of Defense Form 294, Application for Review of Physical Disability Separation from the Armed Forces of the United States. 

NewsBytes is FRA's weekly legislative update. If you received this through a forward and would like to subscribe, please e-mail us  and include your name and contact information in the body of e-mail. If you are a member of FRA or LA FRA, please include your member number.


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