Tester Votes to Deliver Nearly $20 Billion to Protect Veterans in Coronavirus Stimulus Package
Over the last 72 hours, Ranking Member secured key provisions to support veterans and health care workforce during national crisis through additional medical equipment, services, telehealth capabilities, and more
(U.S. Senate) – After 72 hours negotiating substantial, bipartisan improvements to COVID-19 stimulus legislation, U.S. Senator Jon Tester today voted to deliver $19.6 billion to strengthen U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) response to the outbreak— including key provisions to keep veterans, and the dedicated staff who serve them, safe.
On Sunday, Tester outlined his opposition to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's original spending package that did not protect veterans while bailing out large corporations, and got to work over the next 72 hours to improve the bill—successfully securing provisions to ensure VA is well-equipped to combat the pandemic.
“Over the last 72 hours, my colleagues and I worked across the aisle and around the clock to deliver nearly $20 billion for veterans, health care workers, and communities across the country facing this outbreak,” said Ranking Member Tester. “Although this stimulus package is far from perfect, it is a vast improvement to the original bill, which had zero dollars to support VA. The bill now provides essential funding to increase VA’s response efforts to fight the spread of the coronavirus, including critical medical supplies, testing kits, and protective equipment for everyone who needs it. I will continue to work as hard as I know how to make sure taxpayer dollars are going towards efforts to protect all Americans during this national crisis.”
Tester secured the following resources in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act:
- $14.4 billion for essential medical and protective equipment including the purchase of testing kits, personal protective equipment (PPE), and medical supplies to support growing demand for health care services at VA facilities and through telehealth services. And language to:
- Require VA to provide PPE to all home health care workers serving veterans at home and in the community.
- Waive pay caps for VA staff working overtime during the COVID-19 pandemic, so they can be fully compensated for hours served.
- Enable VA to provide additional support for vulnerable veterans, including through programs to assist homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless veterans, as well as within VA-run nursing homes and community living centers.
- Provide flexibility for veterans seeking home-based care by allowing them to hire their own caregivers, with support from local agencies.
- $2.1 billion to support increased demand for care in the community, especially at emergency rooms and urgent care facilities. Tester also included language to increase flexibility for vulnerable veterans with limb loss, allowing them to seek prosthetic assistance at community providers instead of VA.
- $2.15 billion to bolster telehealth capabilities through increased telework and call center capabilities to deliver health care services directly related to coronavirus and mitigate the risk of virus transmission. Tester secured language to allow VA to enter into agreements or contracts with telecommunications companies to provide telemental health for veterans in rural areas for the duration of the public health emergency.
- $13 million to ensure VA can provide earned benefits by enhancing telework capabilities for the Veterans Benefits Administration. Tester also secured language to ensure veterans and their families remain eligible for pension and other income-dependent benefits, even if an emergency benefit paid by the government, also known as the 2020 Recovery Rebate, would have put them over the threshold.
- $150 million to assist State Veterans Homes in their response to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus. Tester secured language to continue providing payment to State Veterans Homes when residents are transferred to acute care due to COVID-19, regardless of their occupancy rate, and allow VA to provide any available PPE to state homes.
The bill additionally includes millions for medical emergency management, medical facilities, and the Office of Inspector General to support oversight of VA’s efforts to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus.
Ranking Member Tester has been leading the effort in Congress to ensure VA is properly prepared to handle the emergent threat of the novel coronavirus, and is continuing to push the Administration to work urgently and aggressively to address equipment supply shortages across the country. Tester secured $60 million in the second, bipartisan coronavirus relief package last week, delivering critical funds for VA diagnostic testing. President Trump also signed into law Tester’s bipartisan bill allowing veterans on the GI Bill to continue receiving full benefits as universities move classes online to prevent the spread of COVID-19.