U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough met with University of Iowa student veterans in the Iowa Veteran Education, Transition, and Support (IVETS) group to talk about programs and resources for Iowa veterans on campus Monday.
McDonough and the group discussed the Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act — a law passed Aug. 8 providing benefits to veterans exposed to burn pits and toxins during their service, and access to other V.A. programs.
McDonough said in an interview with The Daily Iowan that the student veterans expressed concerns about their understanding of where their Veterans Affairs claims stand and what exactly they qualify for.
“All these things can be addressed if we as an agency are doing things like we just did: spending time directly with vets [and] hearing their concerns directly,” McDonough said.
For McDonough, having representatives who understand the needs of veterans is essential.
“It’s really important that we have with us here today one of our leaders of our Veterans Experience Office which, using data from every single interaction with veterans, helps us inform how we take care of our customers, which is, at the end of the day, how we should be conducting our business,” he said.
McDonough said the PACT Act provides health care for millions of veterans who suffer from conditions resulting from their exposure to particulate matter and toxins during their service in southwest Asia dating back to 1991.
“For 30 years, those veterans have not been provided care or benefits from V.A.,” McDonough said. “Now, thanks to the President and your congressional delegation here in Iowa, and others, veterans now qualify for care and for benefits under that.”
Educating veterans about the PACT Act was the main focus of his UI visit, McDonough said.
“That’s the most important thing I came to draw Iowa veterans’ attention to today,” McDonough said. “They had great questions about it because they’re already on top of it. They’re already looking into it.”
Matt Miller, IVETS director of student support services, said the UI was deserving of McDonough’s visit because of its positive impact on student veterans.
“Our programs are such a strength to support veterans and military-connected students,” Miller said. “We’ve been leading the way nationwide on some of the programs that we have in support services. I think that’s starting to get noticed around the country.”
Miller said student veterans asked great questions about veteran benefits and received honest and frank answers from McDonough.
“A lot of the frustration that student veterans face is filing disability claims or getting medical care after their service, so the secretary recognized those issues and talked about ways forward and ways to improve that,” Miller said.
Miller said IVETS is taking a broader comprehensive look at student veterans enrolling at the UI and are working to meet their various needs. McDonough’s visit was a great assistance, he said.“It’s the Secretary’s way of getting out and letting veterans know that he does care and he is listening and wants to make the changes to the V.A. programs and services that are going to fit the current veteran needs,” Miller said. “It was an honor to have the Secretary on campus today, and our students really enjoyed the roundtable discussion that they had today.”