PACT Act Benefits Processing
Veterans Administration data is showing that 136K veterans have, through mid-November 2022, applied for additional benefits under the Honoring our PACT Act, enacted into law in August. The VA believes that more than 700K could ultimately apply for new or increased benefits.
The VA believes it is so far handling this increased workload well, with the evidence being that its casework backlog has held steady at about 150K claims. That being the case, the VA did announce (November 7) that it will add the processing of claims for persons with cancer to its claims process prioritization, in addition to other existing prioritizations of persons with terminal illnesses and homelessness.
The PACT Act comprehensively addresses healthcare and benefits coverage for veterans exposed to toxins, not just toxins derived from so-called burn pits but also toxins like agent orange. This is primarily achieved by expanding the factors determining “presumptive” service-connected disability. Under the law, 20 new conditions, including various cancers, were added as eligible presumptions.
Annual Benefits Cost Adjustment Policy
The House and Senate passed, and the President is expected to sign into law, the Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2022. The legislation requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to equate each year’s cost of living adjustments (COLAs) for certain benefits recipients with those used for Social Security benefits adjustments.
The requirement applies to wartime disability compensation, additional compensation for dependents, the clothing allowance for certain disabled veterans, and dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children. The VA is authorized, but not required, to authorize equal COLA adjustments for disability compensation payable to persons that are not tied to service-connected disability or death.
Veterans Toxic Exposure Income & Healthcare Coverage
The President signed the Honoring Our PACT Act into law (August 10th). The Senate approved the legislation 86-11 (August 2nd), with 3 Senators not voting, while the House vote was 342-88 (July 13th) with one Representative not voting. The White House released a Fact Sheet summarizing the core elements of the Act.
The legislation comprehensively addresses healthcare and benefits coverage for veterans exposed to toxins, not just toxins derived from so-called burn pits but also toxins like agent orange. This is primarily achieved by expanding the factors determining “presumptive” service-connected disability.
Symptoms of some veterans, particularly those tied to burn pit toxic exposure, did not present themselves within the required five-year window of health care eligibility. The legislation is primarily intended to give such veterans another chance at obtaining appropriate care and disability income.
The high estimated cost of the legislation ($275 billion over ten years) is driven by the fact that potentially millions of more veterans could be eligible for disability compensation who are not currently eligible, those that are collecting could see increased compensation, and compensation for all would be applied retroactively including the estimated 70K survivors of deceased veterans. Healthcare costs for affected veterans are also expected to rise significantly.
Mental Health Increase Approved for FY 2022
Congress approved final FY 2022 funding for the Federal Government (March 10, 2022) to include a $2.9 billion, 28% increase in veterans mental healthcare services to assist the nearly 2 million Veterans receiving mental health services at a VA facility. This includes suicide prevention services like the Veterans Crisis Line, which saw a 59% increase in demand over the last year.
Suicide Prevention - Military & Veterans
Department of Defense 2021 suicide data indicates that the annual number of both active and reserve duty military suicides decreased in 2021 after a significant jump in 2020. In 2020, military suicides totaled 584, up from 505 in 2019 (a 16% increase). In 2021, suicides fell to 518.
Nevertheless, this past March (2022) the Defense Department established a “Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee” (SPRIRC) to conduct a comprehensive review of the Department's efforts to address and prevent suicide with a report due back to the Secretary by this December.
In November (2021), the Biden Administration released a strategy for addressing both military and veterans suicide. Key strategies include:
Reducing immediate access to lethal means by launching a campaign to increase safe storage of firearms and medications.
Enhancing crisis care and facilitating care transitions which includes improving care in emergency settings and improving care and support as individuals transition from crisis care into follow-on settings.
Increasing access by eliminating or lowering co-payments for mental health treatment, increasing confidentiality, clarifying fitness for duty standards, and training of providers in evidence-based suicide risk assessment and care.
Addressing "upstream risk" by advancing partnerships which will help promote veterans economic well-being, reducing housing and food insecurity, and supporting service members, veterans, and their families in the transition to civilian life.
VA Facility Staffing Shortages
The VA's Inspector General recently reported (September 2021) that 90% of facilities report "severe" staffing shortages for medical officers and 73% had severe shortages of nurses. Psychiatry was the most frequently reported occupation with severe shortages.
No Results Found
Honoring our PACT Act of 2021 (HR 3967)
This new law includes a variety of healthcare and health-driven benefits proposals for veterans exposed to toxic substances. Among other things, the legislation concedes that troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan likely suffered some level of poisoning from burn pits, requires medical exams and care, and establishes a presumption of service connection for 23 respiratory illnesses and cancers related to burn pits and airborne hazards exposure.
Status: The law was enacted on August 10, 2022.
Presumptive Service Connection for Respiratory Conditions Due to Exposure to Particulate Matter
This Interim Final Rule (IFR) establishes presumptive service connection for three chronic respiratory health conditions -- asthma, rhinitis, and sinusitis (to include rhinosinusitis) in association with presumed exposures to fine, particulate matter. Presumptions apply to veterans with a qualifying period of service -- i.e., those who served on active military, naval, or air service in the Southwest Asia theater of operations during the Persian Gulf War (hereafter Gulf War), as well as in Afghanistan, Syria, Djibouti, or Uzbekistan, on or after September 19, 2001, during the Gulf War.
Status: this IFR went into effect on August 5, 2021.