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As PACT Act Goes Into Effect, Senator Hassan Pushes VA to Continue Robust Outreach to Veterans

WASHINGTON – During a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing yesterday, Senator Maggie Hassan questioned Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officials about the implementation of the bipartisan PACT Act, historic toxic exposure legislation that Senator Hassan helped write and pass into law. 

For more than a year, Senator Hassan and fellow members of the Senate and House veterans committees worked together with the VA and Veterans Service Organizations to pass this bill into law. The legislation includes key provisions from the Toxic Exposure in the American Military (TEAM) Act that Senators Hassan and Thom Tillis (R-NC) introduced and continued to push for throughout negotiations. 

To watch Senator Hassan’s questioning, click here.

Senator Hassan began by asking how the VA is connecting with veterans who are not already in the VA system to ensure that they receive information on potential eligibility for VA health care and benefits through the PACT Act.

“I want to make sure that the VA is targeting outreach to service members who will be separating or retiring from the military in the future, but likely aren’t actively connected with VA services today,” said Senator Hassan.

When asked how the VA will coordinate with the Department of Defense on outreach to active duty members, Shereef M. Elnahal, VA Under Secretary for Health, shared that the VA will attend the Defense Department’s military outreach events and will invite Defense Department stakeholders to next month’s PACT Act awareness week events. In addition, Joshua Jacobs, VA Senior Advisor for Policy Performing the Delegable Duties of the Under Secretary for Benefits, added that the VA coordinates with the Department of Defense through their Joint Executive Committee and that he will raise the issue at a meeting with them this week.

Senator Hassan then spoke about the need for the VA to increase their staff in rural areas, an issue important to New Hampshire, to provide veterans with their new benefits and health care.

“This need is particularly acute in rural communities in New Hampshire and across the country, where attracting health care providers is a challenge,” said Senator Hassan. “Section 901 of the PACT Act requires the VA to develop and implement a National Rural Recruitment and Hiring Plan for health care professionals to better reach these underserved communities.”

When asked how the VA plans to address this, Under Secretary Elnalhal said that “We are actually approaching this in an I think innovative way. We’re taking our experts in workforce management and human resources and combining them with our implementation science researchers to collate the data that is available to understand what a targeted outreach plan could look like and make that an actual evidence-based effort.”

Tracey Therit, Chief Human Capital Officer for the Department of Veterans Affairs, also committed to keeping Senator Hassan updated on efforts to increase the workforce in rural areas to provide PACT Act benefits.

Senator Hassan has worked to make sure that Granite State service members and veterans have the support that they need. Last month, President Biden signed into law bipartisan legislation introduced by Senator Hassan to strengthen the Solid Start program, which contacts every veteran three times by phone in the first year after they leave active duty service to check in and help connect them to VA programs and benefits. Earlier this year, Senator Hassan led a Senate field hearing in Manchester on supporting New Hampshire service members during their transition to civilian life. Senator Hassan also worked with a bipartisan group of her colleagues to end the Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) Commission process that threatened New Hampshire veterans’ care. After pressure from Senator Hassan, acting on concerns raised by NH DAV, the Department of Veterans Affairs has cleared the New Hampshire application backlog for volunteers who drive veterans to medical appointments.