Disability Assistance & Memorial Affairs Chairman Luttrell’s Opening Remarks at PACT Act Implementation Oversight Hearing
Washington, May 16, 2023 | Kathleen McCarthy
Rep. Morgan Luttrell, (R-Texas), the Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance & Memorial Affairs, delivered the following opening remarks, as prepared, at the start of the subcommittee’s oversight hearing to assess the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) implementation of S. 3373, Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act of 2022, comprehensive legislation that was signed into law last year to expand access to healthcare and benefits for veterans who were exposed to toxic substances during their time in the military:
The subcommittee will come to order.
I would like to welcome everyone to our first DAMA oversight hearing of the one hundred and eighteenth Congress.
We are here today to review V.A.’s implementation of the PACT Act and to discuss potential areas for improvement.
The PACT Act was the largest expansion of benefits for veterans and their survivors in decades.
It is a vital piece of legislation to ensure that toxic-exposed veterans and their survivors finally receive their earned benefits.
Given that we are approaching 6 months since V.A. began to process PACT Act claims, it is a good time to take a look at V.A.’s implementation.
I recently had the opportunity to visit the Houston Regional Office (R.O.), which serves many of my veteran constituents.
I heard from R.O. employees about the effectiveness of training on how to process PACT Act claims, and their struggles with the Toxic Exposure Risk Activity or TERA memo.
R.O. employees also discussed receiving inconsistent guidance from V.A. and how this makes it difficult for them to properly process claims.
I am concerned that employees were not given enough time to comprehend these training materials, such as the over 70-page training manual, before they began processing PACT claims in January 2023.
I think it is safe to say there is some work to be done to improve how employees are being trained and supported through this change, which ultimately affects the delivery of benefits to veterans.
I look forward to discussing the Department’s plans to address these gaps today.
I am also eager to hear about the progress that VA is making in their technology in order to help work down the backlog.
As of April 28th, V.A. has received over half a million PACT Act claims and processed just over 250,000 of those claims.
There are still many more claims that need to be processed and many more that have still not been filed.
VA’s I.T. efforts are critical to ensuring that veterans receive timely and accurate decisions.
Finally, the PACT Act established a process for the Secretary to conduct research and establish new presumptive conditions based on toxic exposure.
I am interested in receiving an update on the status of V.A.’s research and how this will impact the claims process.
I have said this many times before and I will say it again, veterans are one of my top priorities.
I appreciate the work of my colleagues last Congress to get the PACT Act across the finish line, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
Thank you to all our witnesses for being here today and I look forward to your input and recommendations on this matter.
With that, I yield to Ranking Member Pappas for his opening statement.