Secretary: VA ready for COVID-19 pandemic



VA is ready for the COVID-19 pandemic, said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie during a White House press briefing March 18.

“One of the things we do at VA is that we prepare for national emergencies, be they national emergencies or epidemics,” Wilkie said.

VA has four specific missions. Three are Veterans health care, Veterans benefits and running national cemeteries.

“Our fourth mission is to support the federal government in times of natural disasters and pandemics,” he said. Wilkie said VA is the “buttress force” if the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) needs medical professionals for crises.

“We plan for that every day,” he said. “We are gaming out emergency preparedness scenarios and we stand ready when the President needs us to expand our mission.”

Wilkie said VA has stockpiled equipment and its supply chain is stable.

Helping Veterans

The secretary said VA has tested several hundred Veterans and 44 have tested positive for coronavirus. He said many of those Veterans self-quarantined in their homes. He added that VA works with state laboratories and private companies for testing kits.

The secretary said that Veteran care and protection is an important part of VA’s mission.

“My instructions from the President were very clear,” Wilkie said. “I was to do everything imaginable, as aggressively as possible, to protect the 9.5 million Veterans who are part of the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

The secretary said VA established 19 emergency operations centers across the country last month. Additionally, VA started limiting the number of visitors to facilities to try to stop the virus’ spread. He said VA also was one of the first health care systems that started questioning and testing visitors before allowing access. He added VA also restricted access to its Community Living Centers to help keep Veteran residents safe.

Wilkie said VA took additional steps to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure, including cutting back dental surgeries, routine appointments and elective surgeries.

All these actions help protect Veterans, he said.

“These were all parts of the President’s directive to be as aggressive in a public health sense as we could be,” Wilkie said. “I think we have set the pace for the entire country.

“We’ve often said we work the most noble mission in the federal government,” he continued. “Our Veterans have been in the toughest spots in the world. They have been put in conditions that are unimaginable to most Americans and they have responded.”

For the latest VA updates on coronavirus and commonsense tips on preventing its spread, visit https://www.va.gov/coronavirus.

For more information about coronavirus, please visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.

Author

Adam Stump

Adam Stump is a public affairs specialist with VA’s Digital Media Engagement team. He is a retired Air Force Veteran who served 20 years, including two deployments to Afghanistan for detention operations and special operations.

Comments

  1. rudy rodriguez    

    A huge shout out to all the brave men and women who are working the front lines with the sick and wounded at the VA. We appreciate you! We’ve always appreciated your service and your tireless committment to helping others! Thank you all so very much for all you do! Especially in this time of great need.
    A Special Thank You to those at the Puget Sound Health Care System. Be safe and stay well.

  2. Clay Coker    

    I have an undiagnosed condition that gives me breathing problems, choking problems, eating problems and the Houston VA doesn’t seem to think that warrants an emergency. It caused me to choke to the point of passing out so I went to the emergency room, and all they did was a swallow test and then sent me home. I am worried that this will kill me before they get around to making appointments again. I can’t get my doctor or the patient advocate to call me back. I will be pushing to disband the VA healthcare system in favor of medicare from now on. That is unless this kills me.

  3. Jaqueline Smith    

    The Captain James A. Lovell Federal Healthcare Center (North Chicago VA) Is NOT ready for the Covid 19 pandemic either. They are utilizing the Navy Corpsman to “screen” individuals who going into our high risk patient populations but they do nothing but play on their telephones. There are no masks or gloves being utilized and actual staff members are ripping off and stealing hand sanitizers from the walls but no one is doing anything about it. They are feeding false lies to the public and mandating that high risk employees come into work. Where is the leadership in these times? There are none. Robert Wilkie knows nothing about what goes on in these VA’S nor does he do anything to find out. I am thinking that they are just waiting for body bags to pile up until they do something about it, if any.

    Hopefully, something gets done soon. If not, people will die because of this pandemic and because of the lack of leadership and communication put forth by the “higher up’s” which is literally just a nice way to say idiots who work at the VA.

  4. Wade corbett    

    I’m a viet nam vet. 1965- 1967. I’ve been in the va hospital system since 1969.before the age of computers. Even with all that paper work back then. The staff was still professional. Those were hard times and a lot of work for the staff. In light of all the yelling and cursing at them from some of the impatient vets, they stayed composed and professional. I have always been treated with the utmost respect. Three cheers for the Manhattan va staff.

  5. Stephen Turner    

    Considering that Wilkie can’t seem to be nailing down the first three missions of the VA, I’d hope he wouldn’t be willing to take the fourth. There is still not enough funding to meet all the promises made under the Mission Act–how is it going to pay for additional funding criteria for the fourth mission, unless it takes even more funds away from the others?

  6. Jennifer Mish    

    As a veteran in a high risk category (diabetes) I’m am offered a telephone appointment. I am also an employee that works in the billing department with about 400 other civilians. We have ADHOC and Telework agreements in place so we could work from home. But with veterans such as myself being offered the ability to do things online on the government servers the employees have had all telework abilities revoked and are now required to be in office 100%. Makes no sense for me to be in the building 9.5 hours a day then have a 30 minute online doctor appointment?

  7. REGINA E BOSLEY    

    The reason why he said that all the VA is ready because he don’t want to lose money. ALL OF THE VA HOSPITAL IS NOT READY FOR THE COVID-19.

  8. REGINA E BOSLEY    

    We the VA in Buffalo,ny is not ready for the COVID-19 at. They should really clean the VA. Especially the food service part. And I don’t want to bring it back to my kids and my sick older mother

    1. Daniel L Kibbee    

      Hello Regina. This is the time to get with AFGE and Risk Management and protect yourself. You sound like an employee also, we need you , stay well.

  9. Theresa Mucino    

    A veteran friend of mine in California goes to the Martinez VA. He is now 79 years old has some conditions they treat him for and I believe they do a good job. Until now go figure, when he needs them the most! I am disappointed with a resent visit of his, his primary physician, when told about his symptoms identical to COVID 19, did nothing more than treated him doing a visual test of his throat. Didn’t say one word about how it looked then went on to a completely different subject. Ignored like it had no importance at all.
    There’s actually more to his recent health condition and the now recent poor care. A patient with his symptoms of throat pain and chest pain is not tested how do they know if he is okay? Well he continues to go about his days potentially spreading what could be deadly to him and others. Very disappointing I hope things have changed, I’ve been calling him and his phone has a busy signal and I can’t get out to check on him.

  10. joe ramos    

    This doesn’t have anything to do with the Coronavirus, but it has been on my mind for many years. I am a Vietnam era veteran (1965-66). I was mostly assigned to clerical duties because of my office experience, although my MOS was 111. Because of my MOS I was also required to join may buddies on patrols and field assignments, although not as many as they were. My first big wartime involvement occurred in the Ia Drang Valley. I was in Company B, 5th Battalion, 1st Air Calvary. I never kept in touch with many of my close friends who were there with me. I often think of them and what became of them. I don’t know how to look up that information or if it’s even possible. I am too afraid to go to The Wall for fear of what I’ll find. Can anyone provide me with information on how I might do this? I would appreciate it.

    I

  11. David C. Burdick    

    THIS ARTICLE IS FLUFF & A DAMNED LIE!!!!!

    I’m a Microbiologist, schooled & trained in the USAF as a Clinical Lab. Specialist (90450), registered w/ ASCP as a MLT, and rec’d a B.S. Microbiology ’78 at Texas A&M University (College Station).

    THE VA OUTPATIENT CLINIC IN AUSTIN, TX (VA-OPC (Austin)) IS NOT “ready for COVID-19 pandemic!!!!!”

    I had blood drawn for testing 48hr. ago.

    Before entering the facility I was confronted by a male volunteer (??) who asked me 3 questions re: exposure to COVID-19. There was hand sanitizer available on a table BUT the VETERANS WERE NOT ORDERED TO USE IT! No face masks were seen. I asked for a one being as I was entering a “group arena / the lobby.” A woman seemed frustrated upon my request & had to dig deep into the cardboard box on the chair in front of her. She only gave me the mask instead of performing my urgent suggestion to place the box on the table and order all Veterans entering to place one on their face properly COVERING THEIR NOSE & MOUTH.

    As I went thru the exterior doors, then entering the portico, I saw no sanitize station. As I went thru the exterior doors, then entering the VA-OPC lobby proper, I saw the sanitize station I HAD URGENTLY SUGGESTED BE PLACED MANY MONTHS AGO IN THE PORTICO!!!!! Instead of face masks, a sign directed / instructed personnel to go to their PCP clerk’s window to obtain one!!!!!

    Before I sat down at the lab. ‘lobby,’ I wiped down the top ONLY of the chair’s 2 arm rests using toilet paper and 70% isopropanol hand sanitizer; I saw blackish dirt. I repeated this method 2X more; I saw blackish dirt EACH TIME!!!!!

    Sitting in the draw chair the tech., W/OUT GLOVES ON, proceeded to find my usual brachial vein in my left arm. He then performed aseptic technique and drew my blood w/ gloves on. HOWEVER, I was in the curtained cubicle long enough to notice HE DID NOT WIPE DOWN / DISINFECT THE ARM RESTS!!!!!

    I then attempted to speak w/ the local director but that was a definite fubar since the clerk didn’t communicate well!

    STUPID!!!!! The VA-OPC (Austin) has plenty of maintenance personnel able to WIPE DOWN EVERY CHAIR, TABLE, CLERK’S WINDOW SHELF, PEN, ETC. IN THE LOBBY!!!!! GLOVES & MASKS ARE TO BE WORN! HAND SANITIZER MUST BE AVAILABLE AND COPIOUSLY USED!

    BTW, they did remove the coffee machine to prevent social contact.
    WHAT?????

    I’m not blaming POTUS; the VA Secretary is an idiot as usual feeding POTUS the wrong info!!!!!
    dCb

    1. Erica Sprey    

      These are not an official government resources, but they may start you off on your search.
      Good luck and God bless.

      The Virtual Wall ® Vietnam Veterans Memorial
      http://www.VirtualWall.org

      Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund
      https://www.vvmf.org/About-The-Wall/the-names/

      The National Park Service
      https://www.nps.gov/vive/index.htm

  12. Kayfran    

    Senior Disabled Veterans in high risk categories are being ordered to show up for C&P Exams during this COVID19 Pandemic? All C&P Exams should be suspended until after this crisis !

    1. sgthe3rd    

      I’ve been wondering the same thing about C&P exams. I had to call the VA and ask for a undertermined time frame for an exam. Hopefully the VA will put out guidance on virtual visits to these C&P exam contractors.

  13. Albert Baca    

    I have no complaints concerning the medical care I receive at the VA. However, I do have a complaint when it comes to mental health or lack thereof. I tried to get help for PTSD and the counselor assigned to me appeared disinterested, and the counseling sessions were a joke. So I stopped going and am seeking help outside of the VA system. Don’t know how things are outside of the San Antonio, TX area, but that was my experience with trying to get assistance for mental health.

  14. jan heckman    

    The range of comments here is amusing — it’s obvious that some don’t appreciate the exceptional quality of medical care that the VA gives to our veterans and that many veterans are unaware of how far the VA will go to help us.
    After that: The VA is NOT perfect and situations may vary from location to location.

  15. Thomas M. Reigle    

    I have to go against the majority of replies of those who have bothered to post on this subject. I am a Veteran of the ’60’s era and have been a VA patient since 2001 here on the Panhandle of Florida since finding out that I was even eligible for VA benefits. I have been healthy prior to that time and had no need of the VA’s assistance until I moved to Florida, but age and a very active life has taken its toll on my body.

    I have been treated for no less than 6 surgeries requiring at least one night of stay in the hospital including cataract surgeries, sleep apnea, and a number of hernias along with ongoing treatment and care for hypertension and normal care needs for a man my age. My primary care giver has always treated me with the upmost respect and concern for my most basic needs or questions, taking time to explain to me the options available, the benefits of treatment, and any drawbacks to the treatments or medications.

    I really get aggravated when I have to sit in the waiting rooms of the available VA facilities here and listen to veterans complain about this and that while waiting for their doctor to provide free treatment for an ingrown toenail or something as equally trivial simply because they don’t receive the preferential “treatment” they feel THEY deserve! I have felt so very thankful that a concerned civilian doctor had advised me back in the early years of my stay here in Florida about the availability of Veteran care for almost ALL veterans no matter if they had major combat injuries or simply needed some local means of finding care for a case of the flu or other common symptoms of growing old and needing to be proactive with their health care.

    I am 77 now and I place my trust in my new primary care doctor to treat me for whatever needs crop up with my health during this crisis. Granted, they are usually extremely understaffed and over scheduled with appointments during each and every day of their work week. But, they seem to find some way to treat each patient with all the care at their disposal and seem to be genuinely concerned with most Vets’ health and welfare.

    There are exception, of course, but mainly, these doctors, who could be making 6 figure incomes while dealing with a near normal workload are there each day working for their patients’ treatment and care. I salute them and pray that they remain loyal to those, like myself, who depend on them for their needs and care in this time of crisis and an unknown future for many seniors in our great country.

  16. Pete Maher    

    How does an alleged VA administrator stand there and say the VA is “ready” to battle COVID-19 knowing that the ENTIRE VA SYSTEM ONLY HAS 100 TEST KITS?

    Stop playing politics with the lives of our veterans.

    1. David C. Burdick    

      ‘Cause he’s playin’ politics w/ the Veterans!!!!! dCb

    2. michael bohdan tymkiw    

      I am with you I go to the va at Hines inn Maywood, and I can honestly tellyou that there is no finer care facility in the entire US I have availed myself of their services since 1996 and I am thoroughly satisfied I say kudos to the doctors and their staff I say to all these dissidents that complain about what they are getting for free and should cost thousands of dollars, to them I say KMA !!!!!!!

  17. David Calvert    

    I have depended on the VA for my medical needs and they have produced with flying colors. Us veterans are truly blessed. Thank you..

    1. David C. Burdick    

      You’re one of the minutiae who’ve lucked out, David Colvert! dCb

  18. Dodie Gaines    

    How many Covid -19 tests have been performed at the VA in Palo Alto, California? Why isn’t the Federal Government providing the test kits? Why does a veteran have to go to the emergency room to get the test instead of a separate location in the hospital?

  19. James Price    

    The VA is an epic failure in its response to Covid 19. I was just at the Bronx VA and your staff who have been in contact with potentially infected patients haven’t been tested! You’re not issuing tests, only screenings and not by doctors! There is no validation, no respect for veterans. Fix your problems. Treat your staff and your veterans right now! Lives are at stake.

    1. MJ    

      I agree with you. Another veteran here. Just political hoshgosh.

  20. Len Bradshaw    

    Given that Wilkie can’t seem to nail down the first three missions of the VA, I would hope that he wouldn’t go promising to take on a fourth. There still isn’t enough funding to carry out all of the commitments made by the Mission Act – how is he going to pay for additional funding requirements for a fourth mission, unless he takes even more money away from the others??

  21. MICHAEL JOHN TROWSE    

    Are all veterans (DD214)s eligible for coronavirus treatment or just some that are already in the VA Medical sysytem???

    I am not in the VA Medical System and was told I am not eligible after 34yrs USN active and reserve service??
    So..
    What is the current policy if I am infested???

    Thanks

    1. Alexis Dieguez    

      Michael, first thank you and all of us for serving living in grace and gratitude every day in this strong nation.

      All veterans are ‘qualified’ for treatment in Govt healthcare systems i.e. VA,; the only details ‘to just what degree’ of benefits does one receive …in fact no ER can turn you away. It’s the law. There are course all types of case by case situations, for example dishonorable discharges, income thresholds and I am sure many others I am not aware of.

      You like many other Vets, need to ensure you stay on-top of your claims/disabilities ratings and processing. Nowadays, it is so convenient to submit things thru the ebenefits online portal, but yes it takes a little time, patience and tech savvy. Always engage your VA VBO (veterans benefits officers, social workers etc), I am sure your are ‘seasoned’ enough to know about how gaging negative people, and not taking ‘no’. I worked with so many social workers that go about and beyond every hour of their day to make sure we Vets are taken care of and well informed. But, like anything else in life we have to do a little leg work. After all, we are taking of ourselves. God Bless!

  22. Brenton Nikolaus    

    Is the VA going to use veteran specific resources and Government funding for civilians? If so, the Veterans need to be given the right to be seen by medical professionals outside of the VA and the VA needs to cover the incurred expenses due to the fact they weren’t able to keep their promise to the Veterans. Veterans are rarely ever eligible for civilian based programs for financial and medical assistant. Yet, civilians appear to be able to use Veterans medical facilities which takes away from VA budget. On the back end the Veterans get put on the back burner.

  23. Michael Bergschneider    

    I am sorry but I checked with my Louis Stokes VA and they said to call a hospital emergency if I develop symptoms and go there. Also had to inform them of the Cleveland Clinic Drive-up as well as the University Hospital Drive-up testing and had to go to the emergency room to get a letter to go to the drive-up facility. No way am I going into an emergency room to get a letter for the drive-up. VA was not prepared or informed. I am still unsure what to do that would be safe and I am sure other Veterans feel the same. Another Trump coverup, lying about the VA readiness.

  24. Connie Christensen    

    My husband a disabled veteran works at a government bldg that gets appx 15,000 tourists a day. I think he is a carrier of the COVID 19. I have been extremely sick but am unable to get tested but if I have it I got it from him because I don’t leave the house. Can he get tested at the VA?

    1. Arnold Cabral    

      Veterans and people Spread my belief email your Senators or Representative contract Veteran Affairs Committee passed a new Veteran Benefit Law for Disabled Veterans who is need to have a Dentist know how to G4 implants for free because they don’t have a contract with Veteran Medical Centers or have a contract a contract with Veteran Affairs Administration and if a Disabled Veterans who is 100 percent service connected doesn’t get the G4 implants it would cause really bad Gums Disease.

      1. Dan Gabriel    

        Connie, would it be possible for your husband to take you to the hospital/emergency room after he gets off work? If they decide you need to be tested, you probably will be, along with your husband if you test positive.Till then, you should probably stop any visitors dropping by. After you test negative, maybe you could find time to help Arnold. He doesn’t have the coronavirus, he just needs help.

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