At Budget Hearing, Tester Questions VA Secretary McDonough on House Proposal to Cut Veterans’ Health Care and Services
Senator: “The PACT Act is pretty darn important…and [this is] a proposal that’s going to cut the funding.”
(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, this week questioned Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Denis McDonough on budget proposals in Washington to gut VA health care and services for veterans and their families—including toxic-exposed veterans receiving critical support under the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act.
“The newly released House budget plan called the Limit, Save, Grow Act would cap 2024 discretionary spending at 2022 levels for everything but defense,” said Tester. “In my real life I’m a farmer—so things like the Farm Bill are pretty important…how we manage our forest lands—very important. How we put money into domestic infrastructure—very important. And not the last—but the PACT Act is pretty darn important…and [this is] a proposal that’s going to cut the funding. Could you talk to me about what this does to your budget and what the impacts are to veterans?”
VA Secretary McDonough explained that budget cuts would force the Department to reduce their claims personnel by 6,000, stating: “which is meaningful for veterans, because we need those increased numbers of personnel…to process claims. That’s how we’re processing more than 8,000 claims a day. So what we’ll see is the backlog of claims grow. And what that means is veterans having to wait for those compensation payments until we can work through that longer list.”
McDonough went on to highlight that slashing VA’s funding may also result in 30 million fewer outpatient appointments—a “meaningful diminution in access to care” for veterans, including those accessing cancer screenings, wellness visits, mental health services, and more.
The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act is comprehensive legislation championed by Senator Tester to deliver all generations of toxic-exposed veterans their earned health care and benefits from the VA for the first time in the nation’s history. Among its many priorities, this legislation expands health care for Post-9/11 combat veterans, creates a framework for the establishment of future presumptions of service connection related to toxic exposure, expands VA’s list of service presumptions, and improves resources to support VA’s claims processing.
As of April 26th, VA has received more than 500,000 PACT Act claims—granting 80 percent of those and awarding more than one billion dollars in earned benefits to toxic-exposed veterans and survivors.