VA is starting to execute its fourth mission of supporting the national COVID-19 response, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said March 30 during a radio interview.

The department recently announced it opened 50 beds to non-Veteran, COVID and non-COVID patients to help New York City.

The decision came after the state of New York requested federal assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Wilkie said VA also received a request for assistance from New Jersey.

Wilkie said as governors make requests for assistance, VA stands ready to respond.

The secretary said VA is also helping on the national level. VA received an order from FEMA to take over the pharmaceutical purchase and supply system. VA will be the “central supply station” of medicine and oxygen during the COVID-19 response for FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense and the Coast Guard.

Veterans still first

The secretary said while the fourth mission is important, Veteran care is still VA’s first mission.

“Veterans come first,” Wilkie said. “It’s only when we have that excess capacity would we open up our facilities for people outside of VA.”

The secretary said the COVID-19 pandemic forced VA to make painful decisions affecting Veterans.

“The most difficult decision we had to make was shutting down our assisted living centers,” he said. VA had to shut down the facilities to visitors and families due to COVID-19 concerns about the elderly patients.

“The majority of the 7,800 Veterans who are in those homes are from World War II and Korea,” Wilkie said. “It is a very painful thing to tell those warriors who had seen so much, both in the Pacific and Europe and also the Chosin Reservoir in Korea, that at this time in their lives, they could not see their families.”

The secretary also said that VA is looking at options for community care. He said in some places, local medical care is shutting down and not seeing Veterans.

“We have not stopped or paused Choice,” Wilkie said. For routine items like wellness visits, he said VA is looking at telehealth options to continue providing care for Veterans.

Wilkie said he had one overarching message for Veterans.

“If you don’t feel well, tell us,” he said. “Don’t come in. We don’t want to put you in jeopardy or put our workers in jeopardy.” He said Veterans should call first.

The Secretary also said during the crisis, Veterans, families and Caregivers should use VA’s website and the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.

For more information

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact the Veterans Crisis Line to receive free, confidential support and crisis intervention available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, text to 838255 or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.

For the latest VA updates on coronavirus and commonsense tips on preventing its spread, visit https://www.va.gov/coronavirus.

For more information about coronavirus, please visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.

Listen to the full audio at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekmTToQHaco.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect patients served at the New York Harbor Healthcare System. 

By Air Force Veteran Adam Stump is a member of VA's Digital Media Engagement team.

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Published on Apr. 2, 2020

Estimated reading time is 2.7 min.

Views to date: 236

6 Comments

  1. Amber April 5, 2020 at 1:30 am

    If you cared about Veterans you would make sure essential workers are being tested instead of letting them spread it around and potentially putting themselves and their families in fear of wondering, If we are essential then treat us as such, The VA should be standing up for us so that we can be treated like we matter, Instead we are being given baggies to save and reuse our face masks in! We should also be given hazard pay being at risk of constant exposure! After you do at least those things then you can attempt to say you are putting vets first.
    Also, on behalf of the CWT veterans workers, we should not be treated beneath full time employees. If we are sent home then we should be paid!!! Some have missed work and just have to suffer with the $8 hr pay!!! Instead we are told that would be fraud?? I can give you a list of fraudulent activity around that VA to address before you take what little we have. How about bumping those CWT workers into those so called desperate job openings you have open so we can have a little money. I don’t see any of our directors or chiefs coming down to thank us in any way! Instead we are being told that we are so essential that we need to go against what the cdc says and reuse contaminated masks, hey thanks! And if veterans are being put first don’t make them compete for VA jobs! I don’t understand how you can’t figure those things out, Tell us what your doing for essential workers other than saying thank you, Are you using your position to make sure we are taken care of? How about telling our Wonderful government to stop making all these stipulation on how and when we are going to receive that whopping 1200. Get on them to take care of people that are taking care of people!

  2. Steven Michael Ragan April 3, 2020 at 10:49 am

    The only time they really want to see us is in time of war . Steven Ragan

  3. Michael L Adams April 3, 2020 at 8:19 am

    If you all care that much about a vets health why in the world was an ortho appointment canceled after I jumped through hoops for three years to get the appointment? You say it’s to “ protect me” from a virus that’s bs. I don’t need the va to protect me from anything, what I do need is to figure out why I lose the use of my left leg when I walk or swim.

  4. Pd crump April 2, 2020 at 11:04 pm

    So the VA is closing pharmacies, but will be the contact and focsl point for FEMA.
    How is that putting vets first?

  5. S W April 2, 2020 at 6:12 pm

    He lies. The VA does NOT care about veterans, that’s why we are being pushed out in favor of the VA treating NON-VETERANS. I hope the VA bills them but chances are really good they won’t, then they’ll tell veterans they don’t have enough money in the budget for veterans needs. We all gave the government a blank check that could be written out for up to and including our death defending this country and this is how we get treated in return.

    • Amber April 5, 2020 at 1:46 am

      And making people stand at the gates “screening “ people. How did the testable fever level jump from 101 to 103 to be considered a symptom?? I was sent home from work last week and had to get a drs note to return to work, so I’m hacking horribly, and have to be exposed to all sorts of people and temperature readings that are inaccurate, I mean how can you think 54.9 is perfect.? Oh, yep.56.2 your good too. I hope those accurate reading thermometers aren’t too expensive for us vets .Get tested for the flu which is negative and told I have bronchitis and that he could tell by my cough You sure doc?? I go back to work still coughing pretty bad and my boss says he didn’t think he could let me be at work, ummm guess what? You and my other coworkers don’t have a choice, Dr says I’m ok to return, I have contacted our governor senator mayor and media too, I’m tired of other people deciding who is essential and not, Who made these guidelines up? How are goodwill stores essential but no other thrift stores?

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