Tester to Administration: Activate VA’s Fourth Mission Now

Ranking Member pleads to activate VA’s Fourth Mission to help communities caring for patients affected by the deadly COVID-19 disease

(U.S. Senate) – Imploring the Trump Administration to release hundreds of thousands of masks, ventilators, and other urgently needed medical supplies for hospitals across the country—U.S. Senator Jon Tester pleaded to activate the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) statutory responsibility to serve as the backup health care system for the nation in times of emergency, and provide support to the doctors and nurses on the front lines to combat COVID-19.

Inexplicably, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have not coordinated to release their supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) or called upon VA’s Fourth Mission to expand health care access to aid individuals responding to the crisis. The dangerous shortage of supplies has left providers resorting to sewing or making their own N95 masks from 3D printers, posing huge risks to the safety of the health workforce.

“While the Department of Veterans Affairs’ first priority will always be our nation’s veterans, we need all hands on deck when it comes to saving lives during this emergency,” said Ranking Member Tester. “Any further delay in allowing VA to fulfill its Fourth Mission will undoubtedly result in the deaths of Americans who are dependent on their government to act swiftly on their behalf.” 

On March 18th, President Trump invoked authorities under the Defense Production Act, which allows the President to order the production and distribution of medical supplies. Once invoked, these implementing powers are delegated to HHS to ensure that states have PPE, ventilators, and other resources. The Administration, however, has failed to finalize policies to allow HHS and FEMA to act on these authorities. Information requirements have not been made clear to vendors, further delaying the procurement and delivery of essential supplies and seriously jeopardizing the safety of America’s frontline workers in responding to this crisis.

Tester urged the Administration to utilize the Defense Production Act and existing federal resources more aggressively writing: “Doctors and nurses should not be made to treat patients without appropriate PPE when VA has supplies it can begin distributing from its own reserves and caches now. Both VA and the Department of Defense have robust supply chains that could be utilized to fill gaps in medical supplies and contribute to a cross-government response. It is unconscionable that HHS has not utilized every tool it has to address the real suffering of individuals in this nation and called upon VA to activate its Fourth Mission.”

Tester introduced legislation several days ago requiring the President to fully utilize the authorities granted to him under the Defense Production Act. The bill would immediately require the purchase of 300 million N95 masks; require the National Response Coordination Center to conduct a national assessment on needs; and waive the Congressional notification and spending cap to purchase necessary resources based on this assessment.

Read the full letter HERE.