As COVID-19 Cases Surge, Tester Seeks Answers on VA’s Capacity to Protect Health Care Workforce & Veterans

At hearing, VA officials provide Ranking Member with assurance that the Department has sufficient PPE, testing to handle growing cases of coronavirus nationwide

Following surges in novel coronavirus cases nationwide, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Jon Tester is pressing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to ensure it is well-equipped to protect employees and veterans from COVID-19.

At a committee hearing yesterday, Tester questioned Acting Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Health Dr. Steven Lieberman regarding the state of VA’s supply chain, and plans to ensure that Veterans Health Administration (VHA) employees have access to personal protective equipment (PPE), tests, and resources to keep themselves and veterans safe.

“In April, VA had to move to PPE austerity measures due to global shortages, and couldn’t guarantee every VHA employee a mask,” said Tester. “Tell me right now—who gets a mask? And how often?”

“We are still following the CDC guidelines—it has not changed,” answered Dr. Lieberman. “We believe we will have adequate PPE moving forward. As of today, we have enough PPE to last us at least thirty days and that number continues to grow.”

“So you’re at thirty days right now,” Tester continued. “Do you feel confident that you’ll be able to grow the PPE stockpile even with the surge?”

Dr. Lieberman replied, “We are focused on many different avenues as to how to procure it, whether through the federal government, on our own, manufacturing of PPE, we are looking at opportunities with DoD [Department of Defense]. So yes, we believe we will stay ahead of it.”

The Senator also questioned VA officials on whether the Department has the necessary resources to ensure the mental and physical well-being of VHA staff during the ongoing health crisis and to prevent provider burnout. He also highlighted the critical need to ensure VA has robust testing capabilities at their facilities.

Tester has fought tirelessly to ensure that VA is well-equipped to handle the ongoing national health crisis. After voting to deliver nearly $20 billion to strengthen VA’s response to COVID-19, Tester pushed the federal government to make full use of its powers under the Defense Production Act to address the nation’s staggering shortage of supplies and implored Vice President Pence to prioritize VA in the Administration’s supply chain decisions. He also led efforts to bolster the Department’s health workforce by bringing in retired doctors and health professionals to help support VA’s unique mission, and championed language in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to make sure VA staff are paid for every hour worked during the crisis.

Tester’s opening statement as prepared for delivery can be found HERE.