Skip to Main Content

Veterans’ Benefits Expansion Opens Door for EHR Modernization, Focused Hiring

More veterans benefits since the 2022 PACT Act implementation are pushing EHR and staff modernization to the forefront of priorities.

4m read
Written by:
image of Shereef Elnahal testifying before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.
Dr. Shereef Elnahal testifies before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. Photo Credit: C-SPAN

The Department of Veterans Affairs has steadily increased the number of veterans eligible for care in recent years, with one of the largest expansions of benefits eligibility set to begin March 5.

At that time, all veterans who were exposed to toxins or other hazards during their military service will be eligible to directly enroll in benefits. This expands prior eligibility unlocked through the PACT Act in 2022 that resulted in large numbers of filed claims, but had an enrollment deadline of Sept. 30, 2023.

Additionally, veterans assigned to specific duty stations in Southwest Asia, parts of Africa and those who were deployed in support of certain operations after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks will also be eligible. 

“This is the biggest expansion of VA care eligibility in generations and we want you to apply as soon as possible,” VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Shereef Elnahal said during a press conference. “Even if you don’t think you need this care today, you might need it tomorrow or the next day or 30 years from now.” 

In response to the legislation, last year VA went through hiring surges to accommodate the influx in enrollment and benefits claims. VA hired more than 61,000 new employees, setting a new record for the agency. In 2024, Elnahal is projecting lower numbers as that demand has settled.

Paring back hiring means a shift in focus in training the new hires and strategically hiring in places where the agency has the most need.

“We hired many, many more people last year than even we were expecting because we had a strong mandate to be able to bring new health care workers on board to be able to meet the increased demand that we expected to see because of the historic developments around the PACT Act with new benefits and care eligibility,” Elnahal said. 

With an influx of talent serving as a ripple effect of the PACT Act’s passage, the agency will leverage some of these new hires toward major initiatives like EHR modernization. VA’s next rollout is scheduled for early March at the Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago, Illinois.  

VA Secretary Denis McDonough said the VA is “restless for excellence” and that the philosophy extends from current care to new updates to care.

“I hope what veterans believe about this is that we’re really digging into this to get it right, and a key part to getting it right is hearing from our providers,” he added.

McDonough said he has been in frequent contact with Deputy Secretary Tanya Bradsher about the EHR rollout, which had been temporarily paused.

Elnahal emphasized that with the Lovell facility rollout, the team will be closely monitoring to ensure the system is ready and operating efficiently.

“We want to make sure this is ready, and if it’s ready, we will go live. And if it’s not, we will do what it takes to get ready to go live. I know that date is coming up, but our teams are working every single day, and [Bradsher] really has her eyes on this very closely,” Elnahal said.  

Related Content
Woman typing at computer

Stay in the Know

Subscribe now to receive our newsletters.