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VA extends PACT Act filing deadline after website glitches

The Veterans Affairs Department is giving eligible veterans an extra week to announce their intention to submit claims under a law that expands benefits for exposure to toxic substances.

Veterans and survivors who are seeking benefits for exposure to burn pits, Agent Orange and other toxic substances during their military service have an extra week to declare their intention to make claims in the wake of website glitches.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is giving veterans until 11:59 p.m. on Aug. 14 to file their intention to seek benefits under the PACT Act. Approved claimants are potentially eligible to have benefits backdated to Aug. 10, 2022.

According to VA, most of the website problems have been resolved, with the percentage of users receiving error messages dropping from 18% on Tuesday to 0.1% on Thursday. The VA also said it was working to decrease wait times at call centers where veterans are facing "abnormally long" waits. 

The extension was offered by VA out of an "abundance of caution," and the agency had already alerted applicants that it had logged the intent to file declarations of every veteran and survivor who had received an error message from the website. 

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, asked VA Secretary Denis McDonough in a letter sent Wednesday for updates on tech issues, call wait times and more. 

Tester asked VA for "an overview of what caused these technical difficulties and how VA will address this weakness in the system moving forward," and to make sure VA systems are ready for an expected traffic surge when the open enrollment deadline hits on Sept. 30.

"Extending the deadline is the right move, and I’m glad to see VA taking serious steps to ensure veterans and their families are receiving the PACT Act benefits they have earned and were promised," Tester said in a statement.

Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs is seeking a detailed report on what when wrong with the PACT Act tech. In an Aug. 10 letter to McDonough, Bost said he wants, among other information, "a detailed plan of action for how VA will mitigate such technical problems in the future when there is a foreseeable increase in submissions, website traffic or system loads."

"VA’s failure to anticipate and prepare for the increased volume of submissions as the PACT Act deadline approached is unacceptable, given that the situation was easily foreseeable as this law is the largest expansion of healthcare and benefits for veterans in recent history," Bost wrote.

The PACT Act was signed into law a year ago today. The landmark bipartisan legislation was put in the spotlight thanks to support from comedian Jon Stewart, who lobbied Congress on behalf of the bill.

The measure provides health care and other benefits for conditions arising from exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam and burn pits used to dispose of military waste in Afghanistan and Iraq. Under the legislation, veterans will get coverage for a host of cancers and chronic respiratory ailments arising from their exposure to these and other toxic substances.

"I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this situation where people who have already given so much had to fight so hard to get so little," Stewart said last year after the bill cleared the U.S. Senate. "I hope we learned a lesson."

This article was updated August 10 with additional comment.

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