Rep. Susie Lee Examines VA Response to COVID-19 Pandemic
Las Vegas, Nev. – Yesterday, member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, U.S. Rep. Susie Lee (Nev.-03), participated in a committee hearing examining the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) response to the COVID-19 pandemic, focused on their efforts providing health care to American veterans.
Rep. Lee received reassuring news from Dr. Richard Stone, Executive in Charge at the VA Veterans’ Health Administration, after VA’s national COVID-19 surveillance tool was unavailable for more than eight days during the month of May:
Rep. Lee: “In April 2020, VA began using a national surveillance tool to track cases of COVID-19 across the country. I understand that this has obviously improved the data that VA has been reporting. I also understand that in the month of May there were at least two substantial downtimes that caused the tool to be unavailable for about 8 days.
"During that time, was VA continue able to continue to track data related to COVID-19 infection rates and deaths during that time?”
Dr. Stone: “When those systems go down, you need a redundancy. We were able to obtain the data we needed to manage from during the time that our primary system was down by those learning events, where literally 1,000 leaders in the system come on at 3:30 every afternoon, Eastern Time, and spend an hour back-briefing us on the status of their equipment, status of their hospitalizations, status of their personnel, the number of personnel under investigation for COVID-19, as well as their positives [cases].
"The redundancy in the system helped us through this. But make no mistake, we want that system to be reliable, so we are not incumbering our leaders to give us manual data draws, any more than I would find it acceptable to use manual data draws in our supply chain system.”
Rep. Lee: “So it’s safe to say that there was no sacrifice in terms of the quality of the surveillance data as a result because you had the redundancies?”
Dr. Stone: “That is correct.”
While VA's success in tracking data during those down times is reassuring, Rep. Lee stressed the importance of uncovering the root cause of the temporary failure of the COVID-19 national surveillance tool to avoid similar issues in the future:
Rep. Lee: “Were you able to identify the root cause of these downtimes, and if so, what are you doing to prevent future recurrences?
Dr. Stone: “That is an IT question, and I have not gotten a briefing on why we had found that down time. That is one of the things on my list [...] I’m sure there are other people in the organization that know why. I would like to hear it.”
Rep. Lee: “If you could follow up with me, I would appreciate that.”
BACKGROUND: Rep. Lee has continued to fight for relief and resources for veterans throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rep. Lee helped introduced the bipartisan Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act, which was signed into law by President Trump on April 28. This law helps hundreds of thousands of student veterans retain important GI Bill, work study, and housing benefits that were at risk due to fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
On April 28, Rep. Lee participated in a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (HVAC) virtual forum, discussing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on economic and health care services for homeless veterans.
- Rep. Lee helped secure $300 billion in funding for homelessness and housing programs for the homeless veteran population in the bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
- The CARES Act also gave the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) the authority to provide telecommunication equipment to case managers and participants in the HUD-VASH program and remove statutory limitations on funding for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) and the Grant Per Diem (GPD) rate. Unfortunately, the CARES Act did not provide VA homeless programs with all the waivers and authorities that it needs during COVID-19 pandemic.