Dr. Boozman's Check-up

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has taken aggressive steps to respond to the coronavirus crisis. 

The VA’s quick actions to prepare its massive health network to handle coronavirus cases are commendable, given that it oversees the largest integrated health system in the country. Over nine million veterans are enrolled in the VA health care program and their specific needs do not recede during a pandemic. The VA has made swift changes to be ready for coronavirus cases, while still providing services to the general veterans population. 

Naturally, a crisis like this creates a certain level of disruption for the millions of veterans who rely on the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) for their care. Urgent and emergency procedures will continue as scheduled, but the VA has shifted some outpatient care to telehealth and some elective and non-emergency procedures have been postponed. These steps enable veterans to receive care through minimal contact with staff, which frees up personnel and resources—including personal protective equipment—for critical use.

As the chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the VA’s funding, I am committed to ensuring the department has all it needs to provide care for coronavirus patients, as well as maintain the continuity of care and services unrelated to the crisis. 

We worked to ensure the coronavirus response packages included ample funding for the VA’s efforts to address the pandemic. Over $14 billion in funding was allocated to support increased demand for healthcare services at VA facilities and through telehealth, including the purchase of medical equipment and supplies, testing kits and personal protective equipment. An additional $2.15 billion has been provided to the VA to boost its technology infrastructure—including enhanced system bandwidth and support—to manage increased telework, telehealth and call center capabilities to deliver healthcare services directly related to coronavirus patients and mitigate the risk of virus transmission. The response packages also included billions in funding to support increased demand for care in the community—specifically emergency room and urgent care; emergency management coordination; and language to allow the VA to expand mental health services delivered via telehealth.

This infusion of funds has already resulted in benefits in Arkansas. So far, the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System (CAHVS) has made employment offers to 27 additional nurses. It has allowed for the acquisition of supplies and services directly furthering coronavirus care, prevention and protection efforts—including additional supplies of hand sanitizer, as well as more than 10,000 N95 masks. Additionally, CAVHS has worked out an emergency interagency agreement with VA Canteen Service (VCS) to allow staff to assist the system’s Environmental Management Service (EMS), with CAVHS reimbursing VCS for salary and benefits.

As VA Secretary Robert Wilkie noted, the department has a “a world-class medical team doing incredible work on the frontlines of this fight.” We are grateful for the men and women working in the VA health care system, especially those who care for Arkansas’s veterans, for their hard work in this trying time. Their efforts are more vital than ever. 

As veterans practice social distancing, the VA is incorporating new methods to allow these men and women to stay connected to health providers and other services the department officers. CAHVS has uploaded suggestions for improved mental and physical fitness to its YouTube channel.

Additionally, questions as to how veterans and their beneficiaries who receive Compensation and Pension (C&P) benefit payments will get their Economic Impact Payments have been answered. The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced that it is working directly with the VA to ensure these payments are made automaticallyand without additional paperwork.

Our veterans deserve all the benefits they have earned, including the best care in the world. Their sacrifices have produced victories on the battlefield. We must ensure the VA has all it needs to win this fight for them. 

Below you will find some helpful links for Arkansas veterans during this time:

ADVA COVID-19 Page: Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs page with news, information and updates on services impacted by coronavirus at http://www.veterans.arkansas.gov/operation

Telephone or Video Appointments: Veterans can receive care at home, either over the phone or via video using VA Video Connect on their computers, smartphones, or tablets. To set up telephone or video appointments, veterans can send their provider a secure message on MyHealtheVet by visiting myhealth.va.gov. Veterans may also call, but VA is asking that veterans only call with urgent needs at this time. To learn more about VA Video Connect, visit mobile.va.gov/app/va-video-connect. 

Prescription Refills: Veterans can request prescription refills, and order and ship medications to their homes using MyHealtheVet or the RX Refill mobile app. Download the app at mobile.va.gov/app/rx-refill.

Secure Messaging: With My HealtheVet, VA’s online patient portal, veterans can send online secure messages to their VA health care team to ask them nonurgent health questions. Register at www.myhealth.va.gov

Mental Health Resources: Get information, tips and resources for maintaining and enhancing your mental health and well-being during the coronavirus pandemic at https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/coronavirus/ 

ADVA Self-Help Page: ADVA has created a “Self Help” section on its website. Currently, there is a step-by-step tutorial on how to file an online claim with more content to be added at http://www.veterans.arkansas.gov/resources/adva-Self%20Help