Tester: VA Must Implement CARES Act Authorities Quickly and Efficiently to Protect Veterans

Ranking Member: “Keeping veterans safe starts by making sure that staff nationwide have access to the necessary resources to prevent COVID-19 exposure”

After voting to deliver nearly $20 billion to strengthen the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) response to COVID-19, U.S. Senator Jon Tester is calling on the nation’s largest health care system to implement key provisions in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to ensure that veterans and the staff who provide their care have access to the supplies and care they need during the pandemic.

“I need to know how VA is planning to implement these provisions for veterans who-by nature of their age and underlying health conditions-are at higher risk for developing complications from COVID-19, and deserve the best possible care during this pandemic,” Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Tester urged in a letter to VA Secretary Wilkie. “Keeping veterans safe starts by making sure that staff nationwide have access to the necessary resources to prevent COVID-19 exposure.”

Under the CARES Act, VA has the authority to share personal protective equipment (PPE) with State Veterans Homes, which provide care to veterans in their final years. In the letter, Tester demanded VA proactively share life-saving PPE to veterans and employees at these facilities, and provide critical funding for State Veterans Homes during the outbreak regardless of their occupancy rate.

Tester continued, “There are more veterans in State Veterans Homes than any other VA-funded long-term care site and we cannot abandon these veterans simply because they are not receiving care directly from VA…What is VA’s plan for sharing PPE with State Veterans Homes as they care for our nation’s veterans?”

In addition to allowing VA to share its life-saving PPE to protect veterans and employees at State Veterans Homes, the bill also directs VA to provide PPE to home health workers, who are directly employed by VA and contracted employees. Tester called on the Department to provide necessary supplies and protection to health care workers on the front lines: “These workers are essential to the health of many vulnerable veterans, and ensuring their safety must be a top priority…What is VA’s plan to comply with the CARES Act and provide these employees and contractors with appropriate PPE so they can continue to care for veterans safely?”

Tester also pressed VA to utilize an authority in CARES that provides VA more flexibility in caring for homeless veterans and ensures that homeless shelters have the resources to operate during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

This letter comes on the heels of the Senator’s letter to Vice President Pence yesterday, where he implored the Administration to make full use of the Defense Production Act and reiterated his call to further activate VA’s Fourth Mission.

Read the full letter HERE.