April 23, 2020

Duckworth, Durbin, Colleagues Urge Administration to Fully Utilize Defense Production Act & Protect Veterans From COVID-19


[SPRINGFIELD, IL] – To better protect veterans, health care professionals, and all Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), along with Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and 13 other Senate colleagues, called on the Administration and its Coronavirus Task Force to make full use of the Defense Production Act (DPA). In a letter to Vice President Mike Pence today, the Senators implored the Administration to fully invoke the DPA to address the nation’s staggering shortage of supplies within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and support the Department in its critical mission to protect veterans, health care workers, and communities from the virus.  Today, there are more than 6,000 cases of COVID-19 at VA facilities across the country, as well as 391 deaths.  In Illinois VA facilities, there are currently 402 confirmed veterans cases and there have been 19 deaths state-wide.  The VA has also reported nearly 2,000 confirmed cases among its employees nationwide, and there has been at least one death in Illinois of a VA employee.

“With the fate of VA’s ability to procure supplies now in the Supply Chain Task Force’s hands, the Administration must act quickly to fix this problem,” the Senators wrote. “During this time of crisis, it is unconscionable that VA is having to compete for supplies to protect its health care providers and veterans. This Administration must prioritize VA’s sacred mission to care for our nation’s veterans who are especially vulnerable during this pandemic. Working in a more coordinated manner would result in a better outcome for veterans and all Americans.”

The depletion of medical supplies nationally and a broken federal procurement and distribution process has left the VA—the nation’s largest health care system—scrambling to secure Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), test kits, ventilators, and supplies necessary to combat the ongoing public health crisis.

The Senators noted that the Administration’s procurement and distribution system has forced VA to implement austerity measures that have left health care workers on the front lines scrambling to protect themselves and veterans in the community. The Senators urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to work in a coordinated manner via the Supply Chain Task Force to support VA in its unique mission to serve as the nation’s back-up health care system in times of emergency.

The Senators wrote, “Our nation made promises to provide the care our veterans earned through their service to defend the freedoms we all hold dear. The Administration's slow response and lack of a coordinated nationwide effort undermines the services the VA can provide veterans. As such, the Administration must act aggressively to better utilize all the tools at hand to bring all Americans through this crisis. We must recognize that we share the same goal—to save lives. Making better use of the DPA is one way to do just that.”

In addition to Duckworth, Durbin and Tester, the letter was signed by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Full text of the letter is available here.