The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) says its facilities are equipped to handle an influx of cases amid the spread of the novel coronavirus. In addition, the VA says it is prepared to test and treat non-veterans and non-military personnel, if needed. So far, the VA has administered 2,736 COVID-19 tests and still has 130,000 available, according to VA press secretary Christina Mandreucci.
“VA has taken a number of significant steps over the past few weeks to maximize capacity and resources so that the department will be ready if called upon by FEMA and HHS to provide assistance to select non-VA health care systems and communities,” Mandreucci said.
These steps include maximizing the use of telehealth, canceling elective surgery and prescreening all patients and visitors for flu-like symptoms.
However, a report by the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) said that the inventory of medications used to manage symptoms, treat critically ill patients to support cardiovascular functions, and sedate intubated patients may be insufficient. Hence, there may be a need for VA medical centers to refer patients to other VA facilities or community providers.
The report comes after 52 OIG staff, most with clinical experience, made unannounced visits to 237 different facilities from March 19 to 24.
“VA has a world-class medical team doing incredible work on the front lines of this fight,” said VA secretary Robert Wilkie a day after the report’s release. “We will continue to share best practices and lessons learned with other government agencies and the private health care system as appropriate so we can defeat COVID-19 as a nation.”
How can a veteran get tested for COVID-19?
If you have symptoms of the virus — fever, cough or shortness of breath — have been in close contact with someone infected or traveled to an area with widespread or ongoing community spread of COVID-19, do not make an in-person appointment with your local clinic or military hospital.
Instead, call your local VA facility and tell them how you are feeling. Alternatively, veterans can sign into My HealtheVet to send a secure message to VA or use telehealth options, such as VA Video Connect, to explain their condition and receive a prompt diagnosis.
If you are going to a VA facility, plan to leave home earlier than usual since all patients will be screened for flu-like symptoms before entering. A VA health care professional will assist you with the next steps once this screening process is complete. Some facilities, especially community living centers, have visitor restrictions in place.
With Tricare, schedule an in-person or telehealth visit with a provider who can arrange testing in a military treatment facility or in the private sector if you are enrolled with the provider through Tricare Prime or using Tricare Select or Tricare For Life.
If your local military treatment facility does not have the ability to test for COVID-19, it will send the sample to an outside lab. Military treatment facilities are also reviewing all nonurgent appointments and rescheduling them for telehealth visits, whenever possible.
How much does a coronavirus test cost?
The COVID-19 test itself is free for veterans enrolled with VA or Tricare. However, if you visit a Tricare-authorized network or non-network provider, Tricare cannot waive copayments for the office visits. All patients are responsible for the copay or cost share based on their plan.
If a veteran still requires a non-COVID-19 related visit, will they risk exposure?
VA has shifted some outpatient care to telehealth, and some elective or nonemergency procedures have been postponed. But, if a veteran does require an in-person visit, facilities have implemented two zones within all inpatient units. One is for staff to care for COVID-19 patients, and the second is for all other care, according to VA’s response plan that was recently released to the public.
Editor’s note: This story, originally published March 26, 2020, has been updated to reflect the OIG’s report and VA’s response plan.