The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act is one of the most important pieces of legislation in place in support of veterans. Particularly for those who have had a toxic exposure while in service of our country, whether to Agent Orange, oil fields, burn pits or other toxic exposures. This legislation, which is the result of the collective efforts of the departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense, Congress, advocates and various nonprofits, is expected to help about 3.5 million veterans who have unfortunately been dealing with complications from toxic exposures get access to health benefits. This will also provide a sense of relief for service members currently on active duty or in the reserve knowing that they will be cared for if they experience any toxic exposure. At the same time, the legislation provides important resources to the VA to build out the agency’s workforce to be able to provide care to these veterans and their families.
Why the VA employee experience is mission-critical to delivering on the PACT Act
The VA has been a leader in strengthening veterans’ trust, improving the veteran experience, and optimizing the employee experience. Now, to deliver on the PACT Act and meet the increased demand of serving an additional 3.5 million veterans and their family members, the VA continues to prioritize the employee experience, so that the needs of employees are front and center. After all, these workers are the ones who will make the promise of this legislation a reality.
To be successful in the rollout of these new efforts, the VA must be able to understand the employee experience, find ways to improve the employee experience, and ensure their workers are included in every step of the process.
VA leaders need to ensure all of the agency’s employees — from physicians, nurses and healthcare workers to claims support staff, engineers and IT — receive the right training and have the right tools, processes and systems in place to enable them to achieve the VA’s mission and to be able to provide care and benefits to these veterans.
Whenever leaders want to know what’s going on and what’s needed to drive change within an organization to make things better, the best place to look for answers is by ongoing employee listening to understand the front lines — going straight to the employees who are actually doing the work. This is something the VA has really leaned into: implementing tools, systems and processes to successfully execute upon employee listening at scale across the entire organization. Through an initiative called the VA’s Veterans Health Administration Innovation Ecosystem and its Diffusion of Excellence, the VA hears from their employees on a regular basis and this has become a powerful capability for the organization.
Continuing these efforts to harness the power of employee ideas and innovations and using these insights to improve the VA’s systems and processes are going to be key steps moving forward in driving the mission of the PACT Act. Having the ability to listen continuously and hear from employees will help the VA make sure the right decisions are being made and having the desired impact. If something’s not right, employees will speak up — they’ll share feedback if changes need to be made. Having the ability to understand the needs of employees will drive action around improving the experience for veterans in regards to the PACT Act.
By conducting employee listening initiatives alongside veteran listening initiatives, the VA will be able to validate the impact of their teams’ work on the veteran experience and identify points of friction in the employee journey that may be contributing to points of friction for customers (veterans and their families).
For instance, if veterans are having issues with making an appointment, by understanding what’s going on from an employee perspective, the agency can gain insight into the reason why.
Maybe the appointment booking system is down — that would be a systems issue, or maybe something is breaking down in the process. These points of friction are signals for leadership of where points in the employee experience are directly impacting the veteran experience.
Implementing this legislation is going to be a monumental task, but the VA has already invested in understanding and improving the agency’s employee and customer experiences. These efforts have resulted in the agency earning the #5 rank among Best Places to Work in the federal government (large agencies category) and the agency’s employees reporting an engagement and satisfaction score that’s 5.7 points above the government-wide average. On the veterans’ experience side, from 2016 to 2021, the VA saw trust in the agency grow by 24%.
The PACT Act is also invaluable when it comes to improving the workforce experience for veterans themselves. Most of the 3.5 million veterans impacted by this legislation are of working age — 25 to 50 years old — and the PACT Act ensures they have the benefits and care they need to pursue the next chapter of their career. Many veterans who have had toxic exposure haven’t realized their full potential and this legislation clears the path for these veterans to excel in the workforce after their service.
Beyond the post-military workforce experience, the PACT Act has the potential to address another workforce challenge: recruitment and retention within the Defense Department. Now anyone who is interested in serving in the military has the peace of mind knowing that they will have access to the care, benefits and services needed, which could drive recruitment and retention and bolster our military readiness.
If you know any veteran who may have been exposed or want to learn more about the PACT Act, here’s more information from the VA, including how to sign up for benefits.
Lee Becker is senior vice president and general manager of public sector atMedallia.