Tester Demands Transparency from VA on COVID-19 Impacts on Minority Vets

Following reports of alarming racial disparities, Ranking Member doubles down on his requests for information to ensure veterans of all backgrounds have access to the care and benefits they earned

(U.S. Senate) – Following national trends of minority communities being disproportionally impacted by the coronavirus, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Jon Tester is demanding that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) share COVID-19 health disparities data with Congress and the public to ensure veterans are protected during the pandemic.

“According to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black, Hispanic, and Native American communities have experienced higher COVID-19 case counts and/or death rates than white communities in many states across the country,” Tester wrote in a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “While the data continues to evolve…we know that minority veterans continue to face challenges in accessing the care and benefits they deserve at VA. We need to be doing everything we can to ensure veterans of all backgrounds can access the COVID-19 testing, care, and resources they need to keep themselves and their families safe.”

On June 15, 2020, Tester requested information from VA regarding COVID-19 racial and ethnic disparities among veterans, to ensure minority veterans receive the assistance they need during the ongoing national health crisis. He also requested data on health disparities in the VA Montana health care system. Almost two months later, VA has failed to respond to any portions of the Senator’s requests.

A Connecting Vets article from July 23 reported that “Black and Hispanic veterans make up nearly half of all Department of Veterans Affairs patients who have tested positive for the coronavirus, though they only comprise about 23 percent of all VA patients.” In his letter, Tester highlighted the alarming disparity among these racial/ethnic groups, and expressed the critical need for VA to share this data with Congress. 

Tester continued, “VA also continues to assert to the Committee and to the media that there are no racial or ethnic disparities in COVID-19 death rates among veterans. This has been touted by VA leadership, and VA Press Secretary Christina Noel who stated that the mortality rate for veterans at VA infected with the virus ‘does not differ by race,’ in the July 23 Connecting Vets article, though she did not provide any data. While this may be the case, VA must make this data available to both Congress and the public so that its assertions on racial or ethnic disparities in COVID-19 veteran deaths can be verified.”

Read Tester’s full letter to Secretary Wilkie HERE.