House Veterans Affairs Committee members are demanding daily and weekly updates from the Department of Veterans Affairs on its response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, along with the answers to 49 questions.
In a bipartisan letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie released Wednesday, 27 lawmakers said they are concerned about staying up-to-date as the number of COVID-19 cases rapidly increases across the country. As of Friday, 130 veterans in the VA system had been diagnosed with the illness.
"As this public health emergency evolves almost hourly, Congress must be informed so it can act immediately to protect the health and safety of veterans who may be at significant risk during this pandemic," the March 18 letter states. "We need reporting on what VHA, the nation's largest government healthcare system, is experiencing on the ground."
The request includes daily updates on the number of COVID-19 test kits available, the number of veterans and employees tested, criteria for testing them, and data on the how long it takes to complete testing. Lawmakers asked for weekly updates on the number of beds and ventilators available, the supply level for protective equipment and pharmaceuticals, and current staffing levels, including those out sick.
Related: VA Home Loan Relief for Those Impacted by COVID-19
Lawmakers posed nearly 50 questions to be answered by March 25, in addition to asking for regular updates. Among the questions:
- Has the VA created an internal task force or team to coordinate responses to the COVID-19 outbreak?
- Are veterans being charged co-payments for COVID-19 testing and treatment?
- Does the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) anticipate canceling any disability examinations?
- Will VBA suspend any time-sensitive deadlines for disability claims and appeals, specifically for those associated with rating reductions or subsequent development letters?
- How many National Cemetery Administration employees are currently teleworking?
- How will VA classify courses whose terms have yet to begin and are traditionally in-person, but will be taught solely online because of the COVID-19 outbreak?
In a White House press briefing Wednesday, Wilkie countered scrutiny that the department hadn't released its plan to support the federal government in times of natural disasters and pandemics.
VA officials have said it is screening patients before they enter facilities and offering free tests to those who qualify. It is providing updates to the public on this webpage.
-- Dorothy Mills-Gregg can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DMillsGregg.
Read More: The Military's COVID-19 Response