VA secretary, Klobuchar visit Albert Lea, explain expanding benefits for veterans
Published 9:40 pm Monday, July 17, 2023
U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar stopped by the Albert Lea VA Medical Clinic Monday to hear an update on care provided to area veterans.
“I think it’s significant that he started his visit in Minnesota, in Mankato and Albert Lea,” Klobuchar said following the tour. “… A recognition that VA healthcare is everywhere , it’s not just in big metropolitan areas.”
She also emphasized with women veterans this was not the old VA.
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McDonough agreed that it was important to get to out-state Minnesota.
“We’ve also risen to the — under Denis’ leadership — to get at new illnesses and new diseases,” Kobuchar said. “One of those is that we have learned over the years our veterans that are exposed to burn pits — and we’ve learned also more about Agent Orange — really have developed some serious illnesses. “
Under McDonough’s leadership, Klobuchar has helped pass the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, otherwise known as the PACT Act, which expands and extends VA health care eligibility to veterans with toxin exposures and veterans of the Vietnam, Gulf War and post-9/11 eras.
The PACT Act adds over 20 presumptive conditions, adds more presumptive-exposure locations for Agent Orange and radiation and requires the VA to provide a toxic exposure screening to every veteran enrolled in VA health care.
“We are so proud of that bill and so happy that so many veterans have signed up,” Klobuchar said.
McDonough described the bill as being potentially the largest expansion of VA health care and benefits in the country’s history.
“If you are a Vietnam veteran who suffers from hypertension and you were exposed to Agent Orange, please file a claim with us,” he said. “The law that Sen. Klobuchar got enacted affords you new options for benefits and care.”
The law will also allow spouses and children of veterans to be potentially eligible.
According to Klobuchar, veterans who apply for PACT Act benefits by Aug. 9 may be eligible to receive benefits backdated to Aug. 10, 2022.
“Right here in this area obviously with the Mayo Clinic, and working with those academic partners, we’re able now to offer cutting-edge treatments for our veterans for things like cancers,” McDonough said. “The PACT Act lists among the more than 30 conditions covered respiratory cancers and other reproductive cancers.”
According to Klobuchar, modernizing health care for veterans was a priority, especially as it pertained to veterans returning from tours recently as well as aging veterans from the Korean War, the Vietnam War and WWII.
“Really provides them with that frontline care, but also with access to experts all over the VA system,” she said.
McDonough said through bipartisan work, they were seeing historic levels of funding VA health care and VA veterans. And because they were in a position to expand access, they needed to optimize that and offer it in an efficient way.
“I just look back to when I first got to the U.S. Senate and the horror of Walter Reed, realizing that we had veterans that put themselves on the line and when they come home they deserve high-quality care,” Klobuchar said. “There shouldn’t be a waiting line in the United States of America. There wasn’t one when they signed up to serve.”
Anyone with questions about filing should call 1-800-MYVA-411 or visit va.gov/pact.
McDonough believes over 4 million veterans could qualify, and said over the past year there have been over 30% more claims filed this year compared to last year, despite last year being a record year for claims.
“Last year we processed 1.7 million claims,” he said, later adding that those claims were not all PACT Act-related. “This year we’re 15% ahead of the processing claims.”
The VA also recognized local efforts to help veterans including Ramona Nelson, an employee at the Albert Lea VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic since 2021. Besides being a leader, Nelson assists in the service line when scheduling patients for people who need care outside Albert Lea.
Emily Hardison was also recognized. She has been with the CBOC since it opened its door in March 2021 to provide care to veterans. She also thanked them for their service.
Tonya Dallman, who has also been with the CBOC since it opened, was recognized. According to McDonough, Dallman routinely trains colleagues across Minnesota and the country.
“It’s that kind of collaboration that really makes the VA the country’s largest integrated health care system the great system that it is,” he said.
Finally, Tom Schumann was recognized. Schumann has been with the VA since 2010 and currently serves as business manager, a role he’s held since 2017.
According to a biography provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs, McDonough — a Minnesota native — was nominated by President Joe Biden to lead the department in February 2021.
McDonough previously served within the Obama administration as the White House chief of staff from February 2013 to January 2017. In that role, he confronted management issues facing the federal government and worked to devise and enforce goals, plans and performance standards.
Prior to that, he was principal deputy national security advisor from October 2010 to January 2013, and he also served as chief of staff of the national security staff and as deputy national security advisor for strategic communications.
Before his tenure at the White House, McDonough served in senior leadership and policymaking positions in the U.S. House of Representatives as a professional staff member on the International Relations Committee and in the U.S. Senate for Tom Daschle and Ken Salazar.