WASHINGTON — Lawmakers want to make sure veterans who were exposed to toxins while serving our country are getting the benefits required under a new law. The Department of Veterans Affairs has been processing these PACT Act claims for almost six months now. It updated Congress on how the implementation of the law is going.
VA officials and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree on at least one thing when it comes to the PACT Act.
“We’re dealing with veterans who in some cases have waited decades for these benefits and in some cases are dealing with terminal illnesses,” Joshua Jacobs, Under Secretary for Benefits for the VA, said.
Jacobs relayed the story of one Marine Corps vet named Benito, who suffers from asthma and chronic bronchitis. Jacobs told lawmakers Benito’s prior claims those conditions were connected to his service were denied. He recently filed a claim under the new law, and now gets benefits because of it.
It’s a success story of the implementation of this law. VA officials said they’re working to make it the standard, but there’s a lot to be done.
So far veterans have filed nearly 570,000 claims of exposure stemming from their service. They say they breathed in toxins from things like burn pits and burning oil fields. The VA has completed processing over 280,000 of those claims. It’s a lot, but they’re only about halfway through the total and there’s a backlog.
So, the department is hiring and improving employees’ training.
“We’re pushing more employees, so that there are more people to do the work and it’s also why we’re investing in things like technology, so that our employees are more efficient and effective,” Jacobs explained.
Advocates want to see a focus on underserved populations and those who might distrust the system after prior denials.
“We have a really incredible tool that we’ve developed that enables us to identify on a county-by-county basis the percentage of veterans in individual locations that are receiving benefits or not, so we can identify those underserved populations to try to target our outreach efforts there,” Jacobs said.
Communication is now a priority.
“The PACT act is a once in a lifetime, once in a generation opportunity, but it doesn’t do anyone any good if they don’t know about it,” Jacobs added.
You can file a claim and find more information here.
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