The Department of Veterans Affairs has extended the filing deadline for retroactive disability compensation claims under the PACT Act through Monday, after technical problems hampered the process for veterans attempting to file.
VA officials announced Wednesday night that the deadline for the disability claims or submission of intentions to file a claim is now 11:59 p.m. Aug. 14 for compensation to be backdated to Aug. 10, 2022 -- the date the legislation was signed into law.
The previous deadline had been Aug. 9. However, the surge in applications as the date approached overwhelmed the department's online filing portal, resulting in nearly 1 in 5 veterans or survivors receiving error messages Tuesday after submitting their intent to file applications.
VA officials said those error responses had been reduced to less than one-tenth of 1% of the filings by 5 p.m Wednesday, but they nonetheless decided to extend the deadline "out of an abundance of caution."
"We encourage all veterans and their survivors to apply -- or submit their intents to file -- for PACT Act benefits now by visiting VA.Gov/PACT," the department said in a press release.
Officials stressed that all those who received error messages had been noted, and the VA plans to reach out to every veteran who received one to verify their intentions.
They added that they are working to decrease hold times on the department's 1-800-MyVA411 help line, which also experienced an uptick in calls as the PACT Act filing milestone neared.
"We continue to work on these issues and will not rest until they are resolved," the VA said in the release.
The PACT Act expanded health care and disability benefits to potentially millions of veterans exposed to burn pits and other environmental pollution while serving in the Middle East, southeast Asia and elsewhere, including post-9/11, Persian Gulf War and some Vietnam-era veterans.
While veterans who develop an illness related to exposures spelled out in the legislation or their survivors can file a claim at any time, those already affected have been encouraged to submit a claim or an intent to file a claim by Aug. 14 to receive retroactive benefits back to the date that President Joe Biden signed the law last year.
The PACT Act included funding for the VA to upgrade its information technology systems to accommodate the influx of claims, disability compensation awards and new patients under the new legislation.
Under the law, the VA was directed to develop an IT modernization plan within 180 days and an information systems plan to track health care expansion and utilization by Oct. 1, 2024.
Shortly after the VA announced that its website faced technical difficulties, Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., vowed to investigate the problem and ensure that the VA addresses system issues.
"I am requesting that VA provide me with daily updates on its efforts to contact veterans to assure them of receipt of their intents to file and provide them with any necessary further information or required next steps," Tester said in a press release.
As of Aug. 5, the VA had received 843,448 claims under the legislation and enrolled 113,719 veterans in VA health care who qualified for medical services as a result of the law, according to the department.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com.