NewsBytes November 3, 2023

In this issue:
Pact Act Update 
Legislators Want Answers from VA
VA Survey on Vet Centers
Senate Passes Spending Measures 
USMC Commandant Hospitalized


PACT Act Update

As authorized by the Comprehensive Veterans' Toxic Exposure Act (PACT Act), September 30, 2023, marked the end of the one-year special enrollment period for post-9/11 combat veterans who left active duty between September 11, 2001, and October 1, 2013. September 2023 was one of the largest months ever for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare enrollments, with overall enrollments reaching 48,763. This number is nearly double the enrollment numbers for September 2022 and represents the second-highest month of enrollments in VA's history.

On average, it takes 154.3 days to complete a PACT Act claim. The FRA (Federal Review Agency) wants the VA to have no disability claims pending for over 125 days, and all claims should have an accuracy rate of 98 percent or higher. However, only 46.8 percent of PACT Act-related claims are being completed in 125 days or less.

The VA reports that more than 4.7 million veterans have received toxic exposure screenings (September 6, 2022 - October 22, 2023). The PACT Act allows all patients visiting VA healthcare facilities to undergo toxic exposure screenings to detect signs of illness and inform veterans that they may qualify for new benefits. The five-minute screening includes a series of simple questions regarding veterans' time in service, potential exposure to toxic substances, and current health status. Veterans will undergo the screening during their initial visit but will not repeat the questions during follow-up appointments. Officials plan to conduct the screening for every patient once every five years.


Legislators Want Answers from VA on Misuse of PACT Act Workforce Authority

Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (Mont.), Ranking Member Jerry Moran (Kan.), House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Mike Bost (Ill.), and Ranking Member Mark Takano (Calif.) are urging the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for an explanation regarding their misguided use of the critical skill incentive (CSI) authority in the Comprehensive Veterans' Toxic Exposure Law (PACT Act).

In a letter addressed to VA Secretary Denis McDonough, the leaders of the committees expressed their disappointment with the VA's misuse of the [CSI] authority. They stated, "Contrary to congressional intent, incentives were used to boost the pay of senior executives at VA rather than enhancing staffing for critical shortage positions requiring highly skilled individuals."

To ensure that the VA could effectively handle the increased demand for care and benefits from newly-eligible toxic-exposed veterans, the PACT Act included provisions to strengthen the VA's workforce capacity. This included the CSI authority, which was designed to improve staffing for positions that demand critical or high-demand skills essential for the day-to-day operations at the VA. These positions include human resources specialists, information technology professionals, police officers, and housekeepers, which have faced hiring shortages for years. In a recent expenditure review, the VA discovered that $9.7 million of these incentives had been misallocated to certain career senior executives working at VA headquarters, without ensuring that the payments aligned with the criteria outlined in the PACT Act authority.

The committee leaders went on to state, "VA leadership managing the program clearly did not adhere to the intended procedures and safeguards that field facilities were required to follow. We expect a much higher level of due diligence, oversight, and planning at this executive level. VA must strengthen its internal controls and management structures to ensure that the authorities provided by Congress do not suffer from similar carelessness." You can find a copy of the letter  here:


VA Survey on Vet Centers

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has approached the FRA, requesting the opportunity to offer a survey to its members regarding Vet Centers. The VA is currently conducting a survey aimed at measuring the awareness and comprehension of the services offered by the agency at Vet Centers. Responses to this survey will remain anonymous and will be utilized to evaluate the extent of awareness concerning Vet Centers and to identify any potential obstacles that individuals may encounter when seeking services.

FRA members have the option to participate in the survey at the following link: . Your feedback and insights are highly valued as they contribute to the enhancement of services for veterans.


Senate Passes Spending Measures for FY 2024

This week, the Senate approved three of the 12 Appropriations bills by a vote of 85-12. The package encompasses appropriations for the Department of Veterans Affairs and military construction (MilCon/VA). Notably, this bill allocates over $120 billion for VA medical care for the upcoming fiscal year. Additionally, appropriators have praised the bill for its historic increases in funding for military construction and family housing projects. Specifically, it earmarks $1.9 billion for enhancing and maintaining housing for service members and their families.

Furthermore, the bill provides $112.6 billion in advance discretionary funding for veterans' health care in FY 2025 and $193 billion in advance mandatory funding for veterans' benefits in FY 2025. The next step for this bill is consideration in the House.


USMC Commandant Hospitalized

On October 29, 2023, General Eric Smith, the newly appointed Marine Corps Commandant, was hospitalized due to a "medical emergency." The Marine Corps released a concise statement but did not provide details about General Smith's medical condition. In his absence, Lieutenant General Karston Heckl, the Deputy Commandant for Combat Development and Integration, and the Commanding General of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, has assumed the responsibilities of the Commandant.

The Marine Corps has indicated that further information regarding General Smith's condition will be disclosed "at a later time."


NewsBytes is FRA's weekly legislative update. If you received this through a forward and would like to subscribe, please e-mail us  and include your name and contact information in the body of e-mail. If you are a member of FRA or LA FRA, please include your member number.


Follow FRA on Twitter (; Follow FRA on Instagram ( and "like" FRA on Facebook (use the shortcut of




Connect with Us