(U.S. Senate) – Continuing his push to hold the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) accountable in delivering generations of toxic-exposed veterans their earned health care and benefits, Chairman Jon Tester pressed VA officials on implementation of the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022 during a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing today.
Named after Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson who died in 2020 from toxic exposure as a result of his military service, Tester’s bipartisan PACT Act provides health care for Post-9/11 combat veterans, expands VA’s list of conditions presumed to be service-connected, creates a framework for the establishment of future presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposure, and improves resources to support claims processing. As of November 2022, approximately 146,000 veterans have applied for disability compensation under the PACT Act.
At the hearing, Tester questioned VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Shereef Elnahal on building the Department’s capacity to address the influx of new veteran patients in the system: “Dr. Elnahal, how is the VA preparing to provide timely health care to newly enrolled veterans while still taking care of the folks who are already enrolled?”
“We simply need enough clinicians and the folks who support them in our health care system to be able to tackle the increased demand we expect to see, because that’s what veterans deserve,” replied Dr. Elnahal. “We are also trying to, on top of that, make sure that we increase our productivity across the system. Our Office of Integrated Veteran Care is engaging in multiple efforts to do just that—one of which is actually standardizing our clinical grids based on specialty, to have standard times on average that it takes to see veterans depending on the type of care they are getting, and then hold our clinicians and leadership accountable for resourcing those clinics to be able to meet at least an 80 percent productivity standard in those clinics.”
Dr. Elnahal also highlighted VA’s role in ensuring community care networks are sufficient to assist VA with meeting health care demand.
Tester later pushed VA officials to elaborate on efforts to tackle claims more efficiently through automation, and to conduct large-scale toxic exposure research as required by law.
As the only member of the Montana delegation who sits on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Senator Tester worked for years alongside Veterans Service Organizations and his Senate colleagues to deliver comprehensive toxic exposure relief to the nation’s veterans. Following sustained efforts from Tester, President Joe Biden signed the PACT Act into law on August 10th.
Veterans can visit VA.gov/PACT or call 1-800-MyVA411 (1-800-698-2411) to learn more about what this law means for them and their families