Concerns continue that the Veterans Affairs Department, already understaffed with an ever-growing backlog, will not be prepared for additional responsibilities following the enactment of the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act. PACT will provide new benefits and much-needed care to over three million veterans, representing a 55 percent increase.
Much-needed legislative action
Signed into law by President Biden, the legislation adds 23 respiratory illnesses contracted when veterans were exposed to burn pits used in the military. The VA has already screened over half a million vets for afflictions. Thirty-seven percent of those who reported exposure and have submitted claims to the Veterans Benefits Administration will start processing in the new year.
With new veterans qualifying for benefits comes the need for additional staffing. The agency is infamous for lengthy weight times. Understaffing and archaic systems have played a role in a growing backlog. To date, the VA has hired more than 12,000 new employees, including 3,600 new hires responsible for health care enrollment and determination of eligibility.
Increasing staffing and efficiency
In addition to the increase in staff, the VA acknowledges that increasing the number of employees is only the first step. Implementing policies and procedures throughout their locations to modernize all processes should also be a priority. The agency is also moving towards standardizing the time physicians spend with their patients and streamlining partnerships with private sector providers.
Automation for decision support will also play a role in increasing efficiency when it comes to pouring through countless veterans’ records. A current pilot program in eight facilities shows promise, with processing times measured in days instead of months and years.
The Veteran’s Administration is a vital resource for those who have served their country and are desperately in need of the services that they have earned.