(Big Sandy, Mont.) – Following reports of veterans’ receiving error messages on their submissions for Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act benefits before the August 9th deadline for retroactive benefits, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester is calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to guarantee all veterans who filed for PACT Act benefits have their submissions honored as on-time.
“I write to stress the importance of ensuring all eligible veterans registering an intent to file for [PACT Act] benefits by today’s deadline have their applications honored as on-time, even if they encounter technical difficulties with VA systems,” Tester wrote in a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “…VA must now follow through with its plan to accept the applications as being on-time and notify all impacted veterans they have successfully met the deadline. It is critical that the men and women who have served our nation are able to access the health care and benefits they have earned.”
Today is the deadline for toxic-exposed veterans and survivors to apply to receive a year’s worth of retroactive PACT Act benefits dating back to August 10, 2022—when the PACT Act was signed into law. Yesterday, some veterans began receiving error messages when submitting for PACT Act benefits ahead of this deadline. Following these technical difficulties, VA announced veterans who received error messages when submitting their intents to file for PACT Act benefits will have their applications honored as meeting the August 9th deadline for retroactive benefits and will receive communications from the Department assuring them of receipt of their intents to file.
Tester continued, “I am requesting that VA provide me with daily updates on its efforts to contact veterans to assure them of receipt of their intents to file and provide them with any necessary further information or required next steps. I also request VA provide me with an overview of what caused these technical difficulties and how VA will address this weakness in the system moving forward.”
The Senator highlighted how veterans are additionally experiencing long wait times when they contact VA for assistance filing for PACT Act benefits on the phone. He urged VA to minimize these wait times by extending VA’s call center’s hour of operations and providing overtime for call center staff.
Tester also pressed VA to get their systems ready to handle a surge of health care applications before the September 30th PACT Act deadline to enroll in VA health care: “As the September 30th deadline for the one-year health care open enrollment period looms…VA must ensure every veteran who is eligible to apply under the open enrollment authority is able to do so without problems. Continued, proactive outreach and engagement with all relevant veterans is critical.”
Tester championed the PACT Act last year to deliver generations of toxic-exposed veterans and their survivors earned care and benefits. Among its many provisions, this law expands VA’s list of health conditions presumed to be caused by toxic exposures, which opens the door to additional benefits for veterans and extends health care eligibility for Post-9/11 combat veterans.
Read the Senator’s full letter HERE.