'High volume’ of last-minute PACT Act submissions caused tech glitches, VA says
Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough stressed that no veteran or survivor who received an error message “will miss out on a single day of benefits due to this issue.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs said a deluge of individuals submitting their “intent to file” PACT Act claims ahead of Wednesday’s deadline resulted in a significant number of veterans and survivors receiving error messages, although officials added that the issue would not impact any applicant's ability to receive benefits.
“Due to the high volume of submissions we are receiving, you can’t continue with this claim form at this time — but we have received your intent to file and saved your effective date for benefits,” the error message said.
In a statement, VA press secretary Terrence Hayes said that the error message impacted “about 18% of individuals who submitted an intent to file” on Aug. 8.
“Every veteran or survivor who received an error message while applying for PACT Act benefits can consider their intent to file complete,” Hayes added. “We are working to contact these individuals to confirm directly to them that their intent to file will be honored and their effective date protected.”
VA Secretary Denis McDonough also said in a tweet on Tuesday night that “no veteran or survivor will miss out on a single day of benefits due to this issue.”
The Pact Act is landmark legislation that makes it much easier for veterans exposed to toxic substances via burn pits, Agent Orange and other substances to make claims for health care and related benefits. Veterans and their survivors can apply for PACT Act benefits at any time, but must file claims or submit an intent to file by Aug. 9 to receive benefits backdated to Aug. 10, 2022. President Joe Biden signed the PACT Act into law one year ago Thursday.
A June report from the VA Office of Inspector General said that the Veterans Benefits Administration — which manages benefits programs within the department — anticipated its claims inventory and backlog to “peak around September or October 2023” with the influx of new PACT Act claims. VBA also told the watchdog that it planned to rely more on automation and IT system modernization tools moving forward to help improve its benefits claims process.
Lawmakers have also called for VA to speed up its adoption of automated tools and new technologies to help meet the surge in claims resulting from the PACT Act, even as they have also criticized the department for issues affecting some of its broader modernization initiatives.
In a tweet, the Republican majority on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee said “IT problems like this are a pattern with VA” and added that the panel “will get to the bottom of why this filing issue occurred and hold VA accountable for vets and taxpayers.”
“We’re still awaiting more answers and clarity from VA,” Kathleen McCarthy, communications director for the Republican majority on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, told Nextgov/FCW.