The Department of Veterans Affairs released its coronavirus plan, which projects that 40 percent of staff could be absent during a severe COVID-19 outbreak.
The 262-page plan comes amid a sharp spike in veteran cases and as Congress is weighing providing the agency with $20 billion more for virus response after VA Secretary Robert Wilkie declined additional aid lawmakers offered a month ago.
Among the contingency plans VA is establishing, is one that would account for as much as 40 percent of its staff to be out of work if the pandemic worsens significantly. And VA's plan anticipates the pandemic could last 18 months, or even longer.
“VA has a world-class medical team doing incredible work on the frontlines of this fight,” Wilkie said in a statement accompanying the plan. “We will continue to share best practices and lessons learned with other government agencies and the private health care system as appropriate so we can defeat COVID-19 as a nation.”
The plan outlines VA's strategy to care for its more than 9 million patients, but also how VA fits into the federal government's overall response. That includes VA's fourth mission, to serve as a backup and last line of defense for Americans -- not just veterans -- during national health emergencies such as pandemics.
"The primary goal of the operations plan is to protect veterans and staff from acquiring COVID-19 infection by leveraging technology, communications as well as using dedicated staff and space to care for COVID-19 patients," the plan reads.
The plan includes creating a system where each VA facility operates as two separate "zones," one for standard inpatient care and one for COVID-19 inpatient care.
"This approach minimizes the risk of infection, supports expansion to meet an increasing need for COVID-19 services, and provides Veterans in routine VA care consistent access to VA care," the plan reads. "The plan includes strategies to address a large number of COVID-19 cases to include alternative sites of care for veterans with COVID-19."
VA has two main purposes during the pandemic: to protect veterans and staff from the virus and ensure veterans continue to have access to care and to support the Department of Health and Human Services "as requested."