The Department of Veterans Affairs experienced a surge in patients signing up for department health care services after the passage of sweeping military toxic exposure legislation last summer. Nonetheless, the VA is confident they have hiring plans in place to absorb the extra work.
Military Times’ recent article entitled “Enrollments in VA medical care spiked after PACT Act passage last year” reports that this is an increase of more than 17% from the same five-month period a year earlier. Elnahal said officials don’t yet have data specifically linking the increase to the signing of the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (better known as the PACT Act) last summer. However, officials believe the two issues are connected.
“We are also doing everything we can to make our resources and personnel systems as efficient as possible, so that our clinics can absorb that demand as it really starts to come in,” he said.
“And we do still have targets for this year to reduce wait times, which really means that our priority around staffing up is first and foremost.”
In addition to expanded disability benefits for those suffering from illnesses linked to burn pit smoke and other toxins from military service, the PACT Act mandated 10 years of VA health care coverage for troops when they separate from the military. This extension affected about 800,000 vets. The VA also has made a public push in recent months to encourage more veterans to sign up for department health care to ensure their military-specific conditions are being tracked and treated.
The PACT Act and the fiscal 2023 budget approved by Congress included both funding and flexibility for increased staffing at VA medical centers to address the possible increase in enrollment. VA officials have a goal of about 52,000 new hires this fiscal year to replace departing staffers and add personnel to high-demand areas.
The move builds on efforts to publicize health care and disability payouts available through the PACT Act. Through the first four months of the fiscal year, VA has already hit about half of its hiring goal, he said.
“We need to hire more providers, more clinicians and schedulers, folks from top to bottom in this organization,” he said. “And as we do that, we’re making sure we’re holding ourselves to efficiency and productivity standards that our veterans deserve.”
Reference: Military Times (Jan. 26, 2022) “Enrollments in VA medical care spiked after PACT Act passage last year”