Tester, Colleagues: VA Must Take a ‘proactive role’ in Ensuring Quality Care at State Veterans Homes

Following cases of horrific negligence at State Veterans Homes, Senators call on VA to step up its monitoring and support of long-term care facilities to better protect veterans during COVID-19

Following cases of horrific negligence at State Veterans Homes nationwide, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Jon Tester is leading a group of colleagues in calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to step up its monitoring and support of these long-term care facilities, to better protect the health and lives of veterans—especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As the nation’s largest integrated health care system, the Department of Veterans Affairs should commit to taking a more proactive role in protecting the health and lives of all veterans in nursing homes, especially those who reside in State Veterans Homes,” Tester and his colleagues wrote to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “…These nursing homes have been the site of many deadly outbreaks during the COVID-19 pandemic. While operated by the states, VA has legal authority from the CARES Act to provide personal protective equipment (PPE), supplies, and assistance to State Veterans Homes, and should play an active role in supporting those facilities for the sake of veterans who rely on them for care. VA also has a duty to oversee the quality of care at State Veterans Homes.”

For months, State Veterans Homes have been particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, often lacking the infection control expertise, staffing, and PPE to appropriately respond to this deadly virus. The most glaring example of this negligence has been at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in Massachusetts, which resulted in the deaths of 76 veterans. In the last few weeks, two former leaders of the Holyoke home were indicted on charges of criminal neglect and serious bodily injury resulting from the outbreak. Months after the Holyoke outbreak, VA officials found similar health and safety risks for veterans at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo, Hawaii.

The Senators continued, “Veterans and their families should be able to count on the Department to monitor the quality of care at State Veterans Homes, especially during this deadly pandemic when residents are most vulnerable. We ask that you take swift action to assess the needs of State Veterans Homes and work with the states to provide assistance to keep veterans and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.”

Tester has fought tirelessly to ensure that veterans and the staff who provide their care have better access to life-saving supplies during the pandemic. After voting to deliver nearly $20 billion to strengthen the VA’s response to COVID-19, Tester called on VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to implement key provisions under Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to provide supplies to State Veterans Homes. He demanded VA proactively share PPE with veterans and employees at these facilities, and with home health care workers. Ranking Member Tester also joined his Republican counterpart on the Committee in sending a letter urging Secretary Wilkie to improve COVID-19 oversight and support, such as conducting “spot checks” to monitor State Veterans Homes’ coronavirus response and provide assistance through VA nursing home support teams.

Read the Senators’ full letter HERE.