The PACT Act: Expanding Health Care for U.S. Veterans
with Terrence Hayes of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
In 2022, the PACT Act expanded health care benefits for veterans with health issues related to toxic exposure.
Terrence Hayes, Press Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss technological innovations that increase access to health care for veterans.
October 31, 2023
Anderson: The smoke from waste disposal at military bases may have exposed millions of troops to toxic chemicals, according to the Department of Defense. The use of burn pits was a common practice at military sites outside of the U.S., including Iraq and Afghanistan. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Recent legislation expands benefits for veterans who have health issues from toxic exposures, including burn pits. It's called the PACT Act. Joining me to talk all about it and the changing ways that medical services are provided is Terrence Hayes. He is the Press Secretary for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. And, Terrence, thank you for being here.
Hayes: Thank you, Tetiana.
Anderson: So we just saw what those burn pits looked like, but tell us what kind of toxic chemicals are in them and what they've been doing to our troops.
Hayes: Yes, Tetiana, this is personal for me as a veteran who served from 2006 to 2008 in Iraq and who may have come in contact with these burn pits. It contains anything from jet fuel to food waste to feces. And so this PACT Act gives us a unique opportunity at the Department of Veterans Affairs to deliver swift and efficient benefits and care to the veterans who need it the most.
Anderson: So basically, the PACT Act means that our veterans no longer have to prove that they were injured from these burn pits. They can actually just go ahead and get care.
Hayes: Yeah, one of the things that we now take into effect is presumptive conditions, and because of this PACT Act, there's over 250 new conditions now. And basically what that means is that if you're a Vietnam veteran and you have suffered from hypertension, all we need to know is that you served in Vietnam, you have hypertension. It's a slam dunk that some benefits are due to you and health care as well. So this presumptive condition measure has made it so easy for us to deliver on that promise of giving care and benefits to veterans.
Anderson: And telehealth has also made it easy for you to deliver on this promise of care. Tell us what's been going on when it comes to innovations within the Department of Veterans Affairs and telehealth.
Hayes: One in three veterans now use telehealth, and that's about 1.7 million veterans. We're averaging about 180,000 telehealth visits per day. So as you can see, we're doing a lot of work when it comes to delivering the care that veterans need, regardless of where they may be located or how they want to receive that care. I'm a user of that myself, and I can tell you that it's made it super easy for many of us to take advantage of the health care that we've earned.
Anderson: Communities across the country have actually been watching what the VA has been doing when it comes to telehealth and taking best practices and examples. What have you seen being implemented that you all started, and where is this happening in the U.S.?
Hayes: Yeah, we're excited because we're able to collaborate with organizations across the country -- academic institutions, other private health care systems, asking us how we're able to use a large-scale telehealth network like we do. We service over 9 million veterans on a daily basis, and we're able to share those best practices with those health care communities. And we're excited about that because VA, we believe, is the leader in health care.
Anderson: So the VA really helped revolutionize health care in the last 20 years. What have you got planned for the next 20?
Hayes: Over the next 20, you know, we're going to continue to focus on our number one clinical priority, and that's fighting veteran suicide. That's the top-line priority at the department, for Secretary McDonough, for President Biden. But also we're going to look at ways to tackle veteran homelessness and other clinical issues that our veterans are dealing with on a day-to-day basis.
Anderson: So, Terrence, people are going to want to know more. What is the website? Where can they look?
Hayes: Yes, please. Anybody who wants to know more about VA, please visit us at va.gov. Or you can also give us a phone call at 1-800-698-2411.
Anderson: Terrence Hayes with the Department of Veterans Affairs, thank you for being here, and thank you for your service.
Hayes: Thank you, Tetiana.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers as well for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, just visit comcastnewsmakers.com I'm Tetiana Anderson. ♪♪ ♪♪