(U.S. Senate) – To elevate the needs of veterans during the ongoing pandemic, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) are urging President Joe Biden to officially add the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary to the Defense Production Act Committee (DPAC). The DPAC advises the President on the most effective use of the Defense Production Act (DPA) to address the nation’s shortage of medical supplies and personal protective equipment during crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
As leaders of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Senators Tester and Moran previously pushed the Trump Administration to include VA on the DPAC last June, but action from the Administration was never taken.
“As the nation’s largest integrated health care system and the largest federal agency charged with the delivery of health care, VA has an integral role to play in DPAC,” wrote the Senators. “VA’s participation would efficiently facilitate veteran care and allow the agency to leverage its unique resources in response to public health emergencies, including the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic…Including the VA Secretary on DPAC will enhance the quality and timeliness of care for our nation’s veterans, and given VA’s national footprint and proficiency in pharmaceutical distribution, it will create a more in-depth knowledge base for executing a strong response to the current and future national emergencies.”
Invoking the DPA gives the President broad authorities to direct domestic manufacturing industries to prioritize government orders and make products the nation needs in a time of crisis.
DPAC’s current membership includes a number of federal agencies, including the Departments of Treasury, Homeland Security, State, Defense, Justice, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Energy. Also included are the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the General Services Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Chairman Tester and Ranking Member Moran will lead a committee hearing next week to question VA witnesses on the Department’s progress in vaccinating veterans and staff, and to discuss potential improvements in the nation’s vaccine supply chain so veterans and VA staff have what they need to get through the pandemic. This is especially critical as the nation surpassed 10,000 veteran deaths on February 17 as a result of COVID-19.
Read the Senators’ full letter HERE.