another reason the VA is totally necessary for national disasters
next time you hear someone saying the VA medical system is a bloated unnecessary government agency:
The Department of Veterans Affairs is preparing to deploy 3,000 doctors, nurses and other emergency personnel — along with mobile hospitals and pharmacies — to bolster the nationwide effort to combat the coronavirus, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie told POLITICO on Thursday.
The VA, which runs 170 veterans hospitals and 135 community living centers around the country, is designated as the backup health system to the military in the event of war. But it is also authorized to assist in natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes, or in this case, a pandemic.
The VA is "preparing for a national call on this matter," Wilkie said in a telephone interview, likening the personnel to military reservists who can be called up by the president at any time. "They know that they can be deployed anywhere in the country. Just like the reserves, their physicals are up to date, their shots are up to date. That prepares them to launch when called upon."
Asked if he has any timeline on when they might be needed, Wilkie said, "we haven't come to that point yet." But he said the agency is gaming out where they might be most needed.
For example, "city X has this happen, what is the request from the governor, and how do you respond to that governor's request that comes through," Wilkie said.
One of the main purposes of the National Disaster Medical System, as it is known, is "to assist state and local authorities in responding to medical and public health effects of major disasters and emergencies," according to the VA.
This crisis poses numerous challenges, including the fact that some of the VA's emergency medical personnel are likely already treating patients with the virus — and the number of cases in veterans hospitals are expected to grow.
That is a double-edged sword because it means some already have experience with the outbreak but they also might be needed where they are.
"They've been responding to natural disasters, so that's their forte," Wilkie said. "But they're also working in hospitals now where they're dealing with this virus."
The emergency cadre includes "doctors, nurses, psychologists, engineers, nutritionists, police," Wilkie said. "In addition to that, we are able to provide a mobile hospital. We're able to provide command posts. We're able to provide nutrition centers, medical vans, mobile pharmacies to support those needs."
Re: another reason the VA is totally necessary for national disasters
Unfortunately, for all the great stuff VA has to offer in this crisis, it is a "zero sum game". I am not implying that VA should not make its resources available to treat corona patients - or non-corona patients to make room for corona patients. It is just that every doc/nurse/ventilator/bed/etc that goes out of the VA system is a doc/nurse/ventilator/bed/etc not available to treat VA's primary patient. VA can be a great resource but to do so, it will have to do things like cease elective surgeries, delay care for routine non-emergency/non-critical patients.
VA will also have to cease its policy of 45 minute appointments. I have asked every private sector doc I have seen in the last 20 years whether they were trained by VA and about 75% said yes. I then asked their opinion about their training and how VA operates its hospitals. Almost universally, they said VA has great people but their operating policies such as appointment length times were terrible.
Regardless, I hope VA stands tall and the non-vets out there who benefit from their care appreciate what VA does.