Lawmakers question officials; make sure vets affected by burn pits are taken care of

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Veteran affairs officials testified before Members of Congress on the implementation of policies and funding to improve healthcare access to Veterans who were exposed to toxic substances during service.

“The hard work of implementing it begins,” Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) said.

With the bipartisan PACT Act now passed, lawmakers are pushing the Department of Veteran Affairs to make sure veterans affected by toxic exposure due to burn pits are taken care of.

“And given its transformative nature, it will by definition present implementation challenges and concerns,” Takano said.

The VA will start adjudicating claims at the start of the new year, and Takano says he wants the funding to be used appropriately.

“Do you believe the toxic exposure fund will improve healthcare and benefits delivery across VA,” Takano asked.

“I absolutely do think the funding will bolster our ability to be able to implement this legislation,” VA health Under Secretary Dr. Shereef Elnahal said.

Some of the funding is already being used to hire new people that will speed up claims processing, but some lawmakers are still worried about the VA’s capabilities.

“Our veterans have waited too long for the VA to fall short,” Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.) said.

Bost says the VA must do everything it can to aid the estimated 5 million veterans now eligible for expanded care. 

“Will the automation be able to significantly speed up the claims process and by how much,” Boat said.

“We’re still quite early in the process,” VA Policy Senior Advisor Joshua Jacobs said. “We want to ensure if we’re going to invest in this technology that our staff is gonna use it that we have confidence that it’s going to produce the right outcomes.”

VA officials told lawmakers they have the resources to get the job done. 

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