Chairwoman Lowey Statement at Hearing on VA's Response to COVID-19

2020-05-28 10:15
Statement

Congresswoman Nita M. Lowey (D-NY), Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, delivered the following remarks at the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee's hearing on the Department of Veterans Affairs' response to COVID-19:

I thank Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz and Ranking Member Carter for holding this important hearing, and I welcome Secretary Wilkie and our other distinguished officials.  And I thank our committee staff for navigating this new way of conducting business! 

Before we begin our discussion, on the heels of Memorial Day, we would be remiss not to mention our recent calls for the removal of Nazi headstones in some of our federal veterans cemeteries.  Although predecessors may have allowed them, today, we need to do the right thing and remove these offensive symbols from the solemn ground where our brave warriors rest.                                                       

During this horrible coronavirus crisis, our responsibility to the men and women who have served our country has never been more vital. This Administration’s lack of preparation and mismanagement has led to needless death and suffering, and much fear among veterans, their families, and the health care professionals who care for them.

To date, there have been more than 13,500 cases of Covid-19 diagnosed throughout VA health care facilities.  Of the 1,193 tragic deaths, 241 have occurred in New York.  

The situation in even more tragic in state-run veteran’s homes, where our most vulnerable veterans have been denied the highest quality of care. VA has a responsibility to oversee and ensure the facilities are meeting VA standards of care, and VA should have stepped in sooner to help.

For nearly three months, VA health care workers have risked their lives, and the lives of patients, because of a shortage of personal protective equipment.  The lack of urgency by the VA to address this need has likely contributed to additional sickness and death. 

Veterans have also suffered because of disruption to routine physical and mental health care visits.  Many face the stress and burden of unemployment, homelessness, and uncertainty.  At a time when veterans most need the VA to be ahead of the curve, it is falling behind.

We need to understand what went wrong and why so that we can identify what needs to be done to avoid this shameful treatment of veterans in the future.

Thank you.  I look forward to your statements and answers to our questions.

 

116th Congress