VA tells Congress it is prepared for possible coronavirus outbreak in US

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Top Department of Veterans Affairs leaders assured Congress Thursday VA is prepared in the event of an outbreak of coronavirus, specifically COVID-19, in the United States.

House Veterans Affairs Chairman Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., asked VA Secretary Robert Wilkie during a budget hearing Thursday if VA needed additional appropriations -- more money -- to ensure the department is able to respond, concerned that the federal government overall may be underprepared. 

“Not at this point,” Wilkie told lawmakers. “We are a foundational response when it comes to emergencies like this. We train for them year-round … We are testing our processes as we speak … We are checking supply lines.”

Wilkie also said “we are set” on staffing for emergency management. 

But if conditions take a turn for the worse, Veterans Health Administration head Dr. Richard Stone said things will change.

“If this develops into a pandemic, in which parts of the American health system break down, we’re going to have a different conversation,” Stone said, adding that as of now, “we see ourselves as well prepared.” 

Stone told lawmakers that so far "we have no directly communicated to the American veteran" about COVID-19. He said VA has systems to communicate with veterans through individual VA facilities if necessary, and VA officials met with veteran service organizations on Wednesday, planning for COVID-19 collaboration. 

Wilkie said VA has "been through these things before" with the ebola outbreak and is "looking at our processes and supply chain in the event that we are called on."

The conversation follows the first American service member to test positive for COVID-19 -- a 23-year-old soldier stationed in South Korea. 

Wilkie told lawmakers VA would brief them on emergency management plans at the department. 

VA spokeswoman Susan Carter told Connecting Vets Thursday that while the Department of Health and Human Services is leading the federal government COVID-19 response efforts, "VA is monitoring the situation through its Emergency Management Coordination Cell and collaborating with public health officials from HHS and the Centers for Disease Control to ensure Veterans benefit from the latest prevention, testing and treatment protocols and develop emergency management plans for medical centers." 

VA also has produced a guide for veterans on coronavirus


Reach Abbie Bennett: or @AbbieRBennett.
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