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Ranking Member Bost Delivers Opening Remarks at Oversight Hearing on VA’s Fourth Mission

Today, Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, delivered the following opening remarks, as prepared, at the start of today’s oversight hearing to discuss the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Fourth Mission response, specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Good afternoon, everyone.

I look forward to hearing about how V.A. meets the requirements of its Fourth Mission – a mission that can mean the difference between life and death when our nation is faced with a public health emergency or natural disaster.

As the largest health care system in the U.S., V.A. has a responsibility to not only care for veterans – but to also assist in the Federal response effort in emergencies and disasters.

With a health care budget now exceeding $150 billion, Americans should expect a lot from V.A.

V.A. is well established with the infrastructure and resources of: geographic reach, deployable assets, a large workforce, and health care expertise.

All of that should put them at the head of the table in a coordinated national health and safety response.

Unfortunately, that is not what happened during most of 2020.

V.A. started at the back of the table and had to struggle to play a prominent role in the nationwide response to the pandemic.

At the beginning of the pandemic, V.A. sent a few representatives to H.H.S. and FEMA.

V.A. was involved in the COVID response discussions.

However, the full, coordinated engagement with federal partners to manage the stress that COVID was putting on the nation’s health care system was slow to evolve.

V.A. also played a minimal role in the Strategic National Stockpile, even after the shortages eased.

The Biden Administration tasked these agencies with a supply chain strategy for future pandemics over a year ago.

I am still waiting to see what will change.

While if or when another viral outbreak may happen cannot be predicted, we do know with some certainty that VA’s Fourth Mission capabilities will continue to be needed during natural disasters.

I look forward to hearing more about how V.A. coordinated operations in communities devastated by the recent hurricanes and wildfires around the country.

I welcome back Doctors Stone and Kim to our first panel.

I am certain they will offer some valuable lessons learned and recommendations.

I am however disappointed that FEMA. and H.H.S. chose not to send a representative to the second panel.

So much of how V.A. is able to respond depends on coordination with them.

Government silos do not serve anyone well, especially during an emergency or disaster.

With that, Mr. Chairman, I yield back.

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