(U.S. Senate) – Following pressure from U.S. Senator Jon Tester, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued updated guidance that it is distributing personal protective equipment (PPE) to every VA health care worker providing direct care to veterans at VA facilities or at home during the COVID-19 crisis.
Previously, PPE was solely given to staff caring for COVID-19 patients or the highest-risk veterans, placing many health care workers and patients at greater risk of contracting the virus. The Veterans Health Administration recently announced that it has started providing facility health care workers with direct patient care responsibilities, as well as those caring for suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infected patients, with essential PPE—including surgical masks, N95 respirators or powered air purifying respirators. The Department’s new guidelines also extend PPE and resources to home health care workers serving veterans in the community.
“Ensuring our VA health care workers’ safety during this global pandemic must be a top priority,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Getting critical PPE to better protect our brave nurses and doctors on the front lines is an essential step in slowing the spread of the virus and keeping our communities healthy. VA’s decision—a long time coming—means a safer environment for vulnerable veterans who are at a higher risk for developing complications from infection.”
VA additionally expanded its efforts to assist State Veterans Homes in need, including providing PPE, staff, and testing support. VA has admitted more than 100 State Veterans Home patients into its care, and has provided 389 VA health workers to support state and community nursing homes.
Tester has fought tirelessly to ensure that veterans and the staff who provide their care have better access to life-saving supplies during the pandemic. After voting to deliver nearly $20 billion to strengthen the VA’s response to COVID-19, Tester called on VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to implement key provisions under Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to provide supplies to State Veterans Homes. He demanded VA proactively share PPE with veterans and employees at these facilities, and with home health care workers.
He has also led the charge in pushing the federal government to make full use of its powers under the Defense Production Act, to make more medical supplies available to protect health care workers and veterans. Last month, he called on Vice President Mike Pence to prioritize VA in any supply chain decisions to better protect veterans, health care professionals, and all Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.