March 13, 2020

House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Statement on Actions to Protect VA and Veterans from COVID-19

WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (CA-41) made the following statement on actions the Committee is taking or has planned to protect veterans from COVID-19 and VA’s ability to carry out its unique missions:

 

“The increase in COVID-19 cases has prompted local and state governments, the private sector, and nonprofit organizations to take actions intended to contain the outbreak among the American population.

 

“As the Department of Veterans Affairs considers its own preventive measures, it is important that Congress and this Committee actively work to ensure VA has the required resources to carry out these tasks.

 

“That is why the Committee has taken the following steps:

 

  • Worked to eliminate copayments for testing and medical appointments for veterans: The Committee on Veterans’ Affairs has worked with key House leaders on potential ways to waive copayments for COVID-19 testing and medical visits for all veterans, beneficiaries, and employees under Title 38, as well as TRICARE beneficiaries.

 

  • Received continuous updates on VA’s COVID-19 response and emergency preparedness: The Committee on Veterans’ Affairs has been in continuous daily communication with VA leadership, and has heard directly from Veterans Health Administration, Executive in Charge, Dr. Stone to discuss the department’s response to COVID-19 and the potential impact on our nation’s veterans. VA has been responsive to our requests for updates and provided regular informational briefings.

 

  • Continued Committee oversight of VA’s mission to respond to a national emergency: We have been engaged in oversight of VA’s emergency preparedness since well before the COVID-19 outbreak. In June 2019, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing to examine VA's emergency response plans and the drug and medical supply cache program at VA facilities, which exist to support the American public during emergencies. This foundation has helped inform the Committee’s ongoing monitoring of VA’s response to COVID-19.  

 

  • Protected student veterans: The impact of COVID-19 will also impact our student veterans.  Institutions of higher learning are correctly moving many of our nation’s students temporarily to online classes to slow the spread of COVID-19.  However, we are concerned these mitigation strategies may lead VA to qualify them as “distance learning students” and as a result, these students could see a lowering of their housing stipends to distance learning levels.  The Committee has requested that VA provide us their outreach plan and what flexibility they have in times of national emergencies.  In addition, I am actively working with the Speaker and our nation’s VSO community to fix this, and have introduced legislation H.R. 6212 , to ensure no students fall through the cracks because of proactive measures taken by our schools and universities.

 

  • Ensured VA’s ability to maintain continuity of operations. The Committee is seeking information about VA's technological and security capacity to maintain continuity of operations as more federal government employees move to telework.

 

“VA’s unique mission to care for veterans and serve as a backstop for the country’s hospital systems in the event of a national emergency or natural disaster must be protected, and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is committed to ensuring VA has the tools and resources to carry out these vital missions.”

 

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Press Contact

Miguel R. Salazar  

Jenni Geurink (202-225-9756)