Congress gives VA more cash as coronavirus continues to spread

Photo credit Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

As the coronavirus spreads, the Department of Veterans Affairs needs more cash to care for veterans and to prepare to be America's backup healthcare system if necessary, Capitol Hill lawmakers said.

So that's exactly what they did. This week, Congress passed a virus response spending package that included $60 million for VA virus testing. 

The $60 million is specifically for diagnostic testing, said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs committee. 

“It’s imperative that the Department of Veterans Affairs has the necessary resources to keep veterans, staff, and communities across the country safe,” Tester said in a statement. “(The) bill is an important step to do just that, with $60 million headed to VA to ensure testing for everyone who needs it. But we can’t stop there: VA must be properly prepared to respond to the unique needs of our nation’s veterans, and ready to activate its critical Fourth Mission to support all Americans if it becomes necessary.”

Congress is working on an additional funding package to further expand testing access at VA, along with telehealth capabilities. 

Much more money could be heading VA's way in the future if the White House gets its way in the next phase of emergency funding legislation. 

In the president's next supplemental funding plan, VA could receive another $13.1 billion in federal funds for Veterans Health Administration medical services to cover "healthcare treatment costs, testing kits, temporary intensive care unit bed conversion and expansion, and personal protective equipment in response to coronavirus." The proposal also would allow VA to move money from its medical services account to the medical community care account, to help pay for veterans' care at VA's network of community care providers. 

That extra funding will be critical if VA has to fulfill its fourth mission to backup the American healthcare system if necessary.

"VA must be ready to treat first responders and civilians while maintaining high-quality care for veterans if local health systems become overwhelmed," Tester said. 

Additional funding also could be used to bring retired healthcare workers such as doctors out of retirement to help support the virus response, expand hospital capacity, procure more ventilators and masks, or partner with the private sector for test analysis. 

As of March 19, VA said it was tracking at least 83 cases of veterans who tested positive for COVID-19 and one veteran death because of the virus. VA said it had at least 17 cases of staff members with the virus and had completed "over 848 tests nationwide." 

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Reach Abbie Bennett: or @AbbieRBennett.
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