The rollout of the PACT Act in 2022 created a red-carpet experience for nearly 80 percent of the Veterans enrolled across Bay Pines VA Healthcare System to receive a Toxic Exposure Screening over the past year.
“VA set a goal for healthcare systems across the country to screen 44 percent of enrolled Veterans by September 2023,” said Dr. Keisha McFarlane, Bay Pines VA section chief of employee occupational health and compensation and pension. “We surpassed that goal in May and used that momentum to reach 73 percent by the one-year anniversary.”
Dr. McFarlane credits a focused approach by providers who championed toxic exposure screenings during face-to-face appointments, for the initial success. However, she added that incorporating another group to the process significantly elevated the number of Veterans Bay Pines VA has been able to reach.
“Specialty clinics have been helpful, especially for Veterans who do not frequently see their primary care doctors,” continued Dr. McFarlane. “Incorporating these teams into the toxic exposure screening process contributed to the overall number of Veterans we’ve screened over the last year.”
As communicated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “the toxic exposure screening aims to make each Veteran’s primary care team aware of any potential exposures to toxins during the Veteran’s military service”.
Screenings take approximately 10 minutes and factors in a variety of exposures such as open burn pits and airborne hazards, Gulf War-related exposures, Agent Orange, Ionizing Radiation, and Camp Lejeune contaminated water exposure.
McFarlane added that although screenings may not take long to complete, the results can have a long-lasting impact to each Veteran’s health care journey.
“When a Veteran reports a hazardous military exposure, the information is added to their electronic medical record which makes the entire treatment team aware of the exposure,” added Dr. McFarlane. “This is critical, because this information allows providers to factor in those exposures and use that information in discussions and recommendations on the best way to address medical concerns.”
Additionally, each toxic exposure screening serves as critical data for VA to use in research.
“Every Veteran who comes forward helps provide information that we can use to design future studies to evaluate long-term health effects of these exposures,” said Dr. McFarlane.
Bay Pines VA and James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital & Clinics (Tampa VA) partnered for the nation’s largest one-day PACT Act event, Aug. 5, 2023, which brought nearly 3,500 Veterans and families to Tropicana Field. As part of the five-hour event, medical providers from both healthcare systems were onsite to complete toxic exposure screenings.