The Department of Veterans Affairs extended a deadline for payouts linked to legislation aimed at helping veterans who were exposed to toxic substances during their military service after technical issues complicated the application process.
The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act — better known as the PACT Act — was signed by President Joe Biden on Aug. 10, 2022, broadening VA health care benefits to veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances.
Veterans and survivors now have through 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on Monday, Aug. 14, to file — or submit an “intent to file” — to be eligible to have their benefits backdated a year to when the bill was signed. After that date, applicants will only be eligible to receive payouts back to their date of filing. Veterans can sign up for PACT Act benefits here.
While there is no deadline to apply for future claims, applicants were originally given a submission deadline of Aug. 9 to receive the backdated payouts. The high volume of applications caused many submitting their intent to file to receive a website error message.
“Despite these messages, VA has successfully logged every one of these intents to file — meaning that every Veteran or survivor who has received an error message while applying for PACT Act benefits can consider their intent to file complete,” the department said in a release.
“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. Most importantly, no Veteran or survivor will miss out on a single day of benefits due to this issue.”
Less than one-tenth of one percent of attempts to submit an “intent to file” on Aug. 9 resulted in an error message by that evening, the department said, down from about 18% the day before.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill, however, are still calling for the VA to find out what went wrong and asking for assurance that similar incidents do not occur in the future.
“It cannot be minimized how disruptions like this can be stressful for veterans and their survivors,” Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., the ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said in a statement. “While it is great news that thousands of veterans are filing for their PACT Act benefits ahead of the deadline, it is disappointing that VA had yet another IT problem that has confused and frustrated veterans.”
The VA has received about 843,000 disability claims under the PACT Act and processed almost 460,000, the department said in a release, adding that it has delivered more than $1.85 billion in earned PACT Act-related benefits.
Biden is expected to mark the anniversary of signing the PACT Act into law Thursday in Salt Lake City, Utah, The Associated Press reported.
Veterans or their family members can get information about PACT Act benefits by visiting the VA’s website or by calling 1-800-MYVA411 (1-800-698-2411).
Military Times reporter Leo Shane III contributed reporting to this story.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media