Senators Are Pushing VA to Give Free, At-Home Rapid COVID-19 Test Kits to Veterans
For now, VA says patients must come into facilities to get tested.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers is pushing the Veterans Affairs Department to offer free, at-home COVID-19 testing kits to all of its patients, saying the approach would help significantly strained VA facilities fight the spread of the virus.
Currently, many VA facilities offer on-site tests to veterans. They are not, however, providing or sending out rapid tests for patients to take at home. In a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough, Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., asked the department to take a more aggressive approach. All four lawmakers sit on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, on which Tester is the chairman and Moran is the ranking member.
VA previously told the lawmakers it was not planning to provide the at-home tests due to high demand and the availability of in-person tests.
“This may limit access for veterans living in rural or remote areas, veterans with transportation or childcare needs, or veterans with mobility limitations,” the senators wrote, noting the department still has billions of unspent dollars provided in various COVID-19 relief bills. “The president has taken numerous actions to expand at-home testing to Americans, and veterans should be a key focus of this effort.”
The Biden administration is currently sending 500 million rapid tests to Americans who request them through a partnership with the U.S. Postal Service. It has ordered an additional 500 million for future distribution.
Like the rest of the nation, VA is in the midst of a record surge in COVID-19 cases. There are more than 50,000 active cases in the VA system, down slightly since earlier in the month but still making up nearly 10% of all positive tests since the pandemic began. The lawmakers noted nearly 13,000 VA employees are currently unable to work because they are sick or quarantining, doubling the total from the wave last winter. More than 8,000 of those workers are currently testing positive.
The senators called on the Biden administration to set aside specific allocations of tests for VA use.
“Those who have served our country in uniform and receive health care services at VA deserve to have equal access to no-cost, at-home COVID-19 testing, just as those in the private sector,” the lawmakers wrote. “These tests could be used before planned gatherings, before attending a VA health care appointment, or when symptoms arise but the veteran is far from the nearest VA.”
Randy Noller, a VA spokesman, said only that the department would respond directly to the senators and declined to elaborate on its testing strategy. Early in the pandemic, VA came under fire after leadership told Congress any employee who wanted a test could get one. After employees disputed the claim, the department was forced to walk it back. Testing is now typically available across VA facilities.