(U.S. Senate) – Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) recently introduced bipartisan legislation to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) emergency response.
The Senators’ Advancing VA’s Emergency Response to (AVERT) Crises Act of 2023 would improve VA’s response to natural disasters, pandemics, and other emergencies to ensure continuity of VA medical care for veterans, and that the Department is better prepared to activate their Fourth Mission authority—VA’s role in improving the nation’s response to emergencies. It would require VA to implement fully operational emergency communications systems throughout VA medical facilities, and improve VA’s emergency cache program—stored reserves at VA medical facilities containing drugs and medical supplies to be used during an emergency.
“In the last few years, we’ve seen disasters strike all parts of this country, from the COVID-19 pandemic to massive flooding in my home state of Montana. Due to its size and reach, VA is in a prime position to respond to these crises,” said Chairman Tester. “I’m proud to join my colleagues to ensure that VA is prepared to respond to these emergencies while continuing to provide high-quality care for veterans.”
“It is important the VA develop and implement fully operational emergency coordination measures to make certain that in times of crisis, veterans and VA staff are still receiving high-quality care and support,” said Ranking Member Moran. “This legislation aims to improve VA’s response to emergencies and will address concerns I have heard from Kansas VA medical center staff about emergency management systems and responses to security breaches. I thank my colleagues for working together on this legislation and look forward to its passage.”
“In August, one of the deadliest fires in U.S. history destroyed an entire town, causing devastation to businesses, families, and impacting entire communities on Maui and across the state of Hawaii,” said Senator Hirono. “Hawaii has been affected by other fires as well, most recently in upcountry Maui, on Hawaii Island, and on Oahu. As natural disasters and extreme weather events – such as wildfires – become increasingly common across the country, it is crucial that the VA has the resources it needs to respond to these events. The AVERT Crises Act will help the VA in its efforts to fulfill its emergency preparedness mission and enable Congress to determine how it can provide the agency with additional support to strengthen its response to future extreme weather events and disasters.”
The Senators’ legislation addresses lessons learned from VA’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, recent natural disasters, and the findings of numerous reports from the VA Office of Inspector General. Recently, natural and weather-related disasters have increased in frequency and intensity, and VA plays a critical role in responding to these emergencies.
Among its many provisions, the AVERT Crises Act would:
- Require VA to implement a fully operational emergency communications system throughout their medical facilities;
- Require VA to report to Congress on the current status of its Regional Readiness Centers, and on recommendations for improving the alignment of its offices involved with emergency management to ensure there is not redundancy between offices;
- Require VA to ensure its emergency pharmacy vehicles and emergency caches are fully stocked with unexpired inventory; and
- Require VA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to analyze cross-Department coordination during emergencies.