What was described as an "extremely high volume" of PACT Act claims overwhelmed the Department of Veterans Affairs website Tuesday, causing veterans and survivors to be shut out as a deadline looms for backdated payments.
The online system sent error messages to about 18% of veterans and survivors who were submitting claims as well as notices of intention to file claims, which were due Wednesday to receive retroactive disability payments dated to Aug. 10, 2022.
The VA said it is working to resolve the issues and that those who received error messages for intents to file would have submissions honored despite the system overload. It said benefits experts were contacting applicants to confirm.
"First and foremost, no veteran or survivor will miss out on a single day of benefits due to this issue," VA officials said in a statement. "Every veteran or survivor who received an error message while applying for PACT Act benefits can consider their intent to file complete."
VA officials stressed that the VA.Gov/PACT Act website is not down, and veterans and survivors should still submit their claims.
Asked about the volume of submissions the VA has received in the past two days, a spokesman declined to say, adding that the department will release the numbers Thursday on the anniversary of the legislation's signing.
The VA's PACT Act dashboard showed that the department had received 408,581 claims as of Aug. 4, with nearly 79% approved for at least one disability claim.
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. 9 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.
The VA said that while it worked to resolve the technical difficulties of the VA.Gov/PACT Act website, veterans or their survivors should still file claims or an intent to file.
Also as a result of the deadline, the VA was experiencing high call volume on its 1-800-MyVA411 (1-800-698-2411) phone number. The VA wait times, which normally are 10 to 30 seconds for a connection, were up to 10 to 15 minutes.
"We at VA are working to resolve this problem immediately, and we will make sure that no veteran or survivor misses out on their earned benefits because of these technical difficulties," officials said in a press release.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com.