A leading veterans advocate who is now sick from toxic exposure including after overseas deployments in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, will not benefit from the recently passed PACT Act, according to medical records reviewed by CBS News.
The legislation’s title is an acronym for “Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics,” and it is supposed to expand health care benefits for veterans who developed illnesses because of their exposure to toxic substances fromon U.S. military bases during their service.
“This is what a loophole looks like,” Army veteran Mark Jackson said from his hospital bed in Florida, after recent emergency surgery for a rare infection.
On the same day, Jackson said he was notified by Blue Cross/Blue Shield that it was denying coverage for an osteoporosis medication that costs about $4,800 per month without insurance.
Jackson earlier shared his medical records with CBS News, which undertook a six-month investigation into veterans’ toxic exposure during their service. He said his doctors believe toxic exposure during deployments to Afghanistan and Uzbekistan are to blame for his thyroid disorder, anemia, rare infections and brittle bones.
“A few hours after (President) Biden signed the PACT Act, the very piece of legislation I have advocated for…and encouraged countless others to support, even though I knew it came nowhere near what was needed,” Jackson explained, “I received in the mail a letter from Blue Cross/Blue Shield a letter wherein they unceremoniously and without explanation denied my claim for the daily injection that thus far has impeded further progress of my osteoporosis.”
The Veterans Affairs Department says that after 9/11, about 10,000 troops passed through K2 over a four-year period, supporting missions hunting al Qaeda. But while stationed there, some say they were surrounded by dangerous toxic waste at the base’s running track and at a site nicknamed “Skittles Pond” for its vivid changing colors. Jackson is among hundreds of veterans who reported rare cancers and other illnesses with an onset at strikingly young ages.
“In the few years we’ve communicated I’ve worked very hard to remove myself from the emotional side of toxic exposures, K2, etc. I always considered my ambivalence a side effect of my exceptional health insurance and my relatively moderate health issues,” Jackson said..
“Today, BlueCross/BlueShield have determined I do not deserve this medication. Today, the PACT Act determined I do not deserve this medication. Long ago, the VA determined I do not deserve this medication. So, after all of this, I can pay about $50,000 a year for medicine my doctor says will save me,” Jackson said.
Jackson’s case was part of an earlier CBS News investigation that revealed severe toxic exposure at a base in Uzbekistan used by U.S. Special Operations teams to launch classified missions into Afghanistan after 9/11. The six-month investigation drove congressional legislation that recognized the U.S. service members who served at the base, known as K-2 or Karshi-Khanabad, as well as an executive order that recognized veterans who had served at theand mandated a comprehensive study of any health consequences related to toxic exposure at the base.
Asked by CBS News why the drug was denied, and whether the medical review team considered Jackson’s military service and toxic exposure, a spokesperson for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Federal Employee Program said, “We do not comment on the personal information of our members in accordance with our privacy standards. Members have the right to request reconsideration of decisions they disagree with using the instructions outlined in our communications to them.”
Once he is discharged from the hospital, after suffering another joint infection stemming from his weakened immune system, Jackson says he will talk with his doctor about the next steps, including an appeal.