Durbin Discusses COVID-19 Response With VA Secretary Wilkie

SPRINGFIELDU.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today discussed the response to the COVID-19 pandemic with Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Robert Wilkie.  Durbin urged Wilkie to provide more personal protective equipment (PPE) at VA Medical Centers in Illinois for staff and residents who are battling outbreaks.  As of April 30, the VA has 8,597 positive veteran cases of COVID-19 nationwide, including 229 at Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, 106 at Hines VA Medical Center, and 209 at Lovell VA Medical Center, and five cases at Danville VA Medical Center.  Illinois VA medical facilities have the 5th highest amount of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

“I appreciate Secretary Wilkie’s efforts to help protect veterans and staff at our facilities, as well as to support the State of Illinois under the VA’s Fourth Mission.  We know that many of the 600,000 veterans throughout Illinois are over the age of 65, and some have underlying health conditions, making them more vulnerable to this virus.  We must continue to ensure that our Illinois VA Medical Centers have resources – like test kits, personal protective equipment, and access to broadband for telehealth – that help keep patients and staff safe,” Durbin said.

Last week, Durbin joined Senate colleagues on a letter to Vice President Mike Pence to make full use of the Defense Production Act (DPA) to address the nation’s staggering shortage of supplies within the VA and support the Department in its critical mission to protect veterans, health care workers, and communities from the virus.

This month, Durbin and Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) sent a letter to Secretary Wilkie urging the agency to ensure that all VA medical facilities in Illinois are well equipped to promptly respond to the coronavirus pandemic and provide for the wellbeing of Veterans as well as VA employees.  Durbin and Duckworth requested that the VA provide information about whether the agency is prepared to fulfill its “fourth mission” to support civilian health care systems if needed. The Senators requested as part of this assessment the number of acute-care and ICU beds currently available within VA medical facilities in the State of Illinois. 

The CARES Act included $19.57 billion in funding for the VA to ensure that the Department has the equipment, tests, telehealth capabilities, and support services necessary to support veterans and the health care workforce at facilities nationwide.  This includes $15.85 billion in direct medical care, including coverage of treatment of veterans, overtime for clinical staff, the purchase of PPE, and the purchase of other supplies and equipment.  The bill also provided $3.1 billion for facilities and IT support for telemedicine and $590 million for vulnerable veterans, including to support homeless veterans’ programs and State Veterans Homes.