VBA steps up veteran outreach to complete 300,000 pending PACT Act benefits claims

The VA recently approved its millionth disability claim under a historic expansion of benefits. But it's stepping up efforts to get more claims in.

The Department of Veterans Affairs recently approved its millionth disability claim under a historic expansion of benefits. Now it’s stepping up its outreach to ensure more veterans complete their claims. 

Under the PACT Act, veterans and their survivors had until Aug. 14, 2023, to submit a benefits claim — or an intent to file a claim — and be eligible to have their benefits backdated to Aug. 10, 2022, the day that President Biden signed the PACT Act into law.

The PACT Act expands VA health care and benefits eligibility for veterans exposed to toxic substances during their military service.  

The intent to file gives veterans more time to prepare and collect supporting evidence, while allowing for the earliest potential effective date for any benefits resulting from their claims. 

An intent to file gives veterans up to one year from the date the VA received their ITF to submit a formal claim. Now the Veterans Benefits Administration is following up with veterans who submitted an ITF, but haven’t completed a claim. 

Under Secretary for Benefits Joshua Jacobs told reporters Wednesday that VBA received almost 840,000 ITFs between June and mid-August last year. Of those applications, the agency received claims for about 450,000 of them. 

After weeding out duplicate, incomplete or canceled ITFs, VBA estimates veterans and survivors did not file a claim yet for about 300,000 active ITFs. 

“As we’re doing this outreach, we’re not only going to work to connect with these 300,000 veterans, but we’re going to learn from this process, so that as we move forward, and continue to proactively engage veterans who have submitted an intent to file, we can do so with a better understanding of what’s getting in their way, so we can overcome it,” Jacobs said. 

VA plans to follow up with veterans and survivors with a pending ITF through phone calls, text messages and emails. It’s also working working with veterans service organizations to help get the word out. 

“What we’ve learned is that we need to engage from multiple channels to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to increase awareness,” Jacobs said. 

President Joe Biden announced Tuesday this week that the VA just approved more than 1 million claims for disability benefits under the PACT Act. 

The PACT Act is the largest expansion of VA services in more than 30 years, and the VA has paid out nearly $6 billion in PACT Act benefits so far.

“That energizes people. But it’s also a reminder that there’s a lot more work to do,” Jacobs said. 

“One of my main takeaways is we have to keep our foot on the gas, continue doing everything we can to connect more vets and more survivors with their own benefits. Yes, it’s going to mean an increased number of claims. And but that’s what drives us, we all wake up coming to work, because we want to serve veterans,” he added. 

VBA saw a 40% increase in claims submitted last year, compared to the year prior. To keep up with demand.

VBA grew its workforce by 20% to a 32,000-employee workforce in FY 2023, and plans to grow its workforce to 36,000 employees by the end of FY 2024.

“Our ability to deliver more benefits to more veterans than any other time in history is in part due to our massive hiring surge,” Jacobs said.

VBA plans to keep expanding its workforce this year, even as the Veterans Health Administration is reining in its own hiring goals, after seeing record growth last year. 

More than half of the VBA workforce is veterans. 

“Everyone who comes to work here at VBA is a veteran advocate. And so we work every day to try to get to yes. But for so long, we’ve been unable to care for the millions of veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange or burn pits and suffered with a variety of conditions. And so for the first time ever, we’ve been able to care for them,” Jacobs said. 

VBA is also rolling out more automation tools to ensure it can keep up with its growing workload.

“We’re also working very hard on the back end, to automate the process to allow computers to do what they do best and humans to do what do best what they are designed to do in terms of decision making, so we can provide more timely, accurate and equitable decisions.” 

VBA processed 1.98 million disability benefits claims from veterans and their survivors — a nearly 16% increase from the year prior. VBA issued $163 billion in total benefits in FY 2023. The agency, however, expects to see another record-breaking number of claims processed this year. 

“The claims process is confusing. It’s complicated, and we are doing everything we can to streamline it so that in addition to providing timely, accurate and equitable claims decisions, we’re doing so with a world-class experience so a lot more work to do in this area.” 

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