A group of U.S. senators is pushing the Department of Veterans Affairs to start providing at-home COVID testing kits to veterans for free, saying that individuals facing long commutes to medical centers or significant health complications may have no other way to check for the virus.
“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 in a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough this week.
“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.”
The push comes as the White House has set up procedures to distribute about 500 million at-home COVID tests to Americas amid the latest surge in infections across America.
VA provides free testing to veterans and eligible family members at many medical centers, but is not distributing any home testing kits to veterans alongside the White House push.
But the lawmakers — Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont.; ranking member Jerry Moran, R-Kan.; and committee members Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. — said they believe the department should take that extra step to help protect veterans.
They noted that White House officials have set aside another 50 million free, at-home tests for community health centers and rural health clinics separate from the wider test distribution effort. They said at-risk veterans should be afforded the same convenience.
“Of the nearly $14.5 billion appropriated for VA medical care in the American Rescue Plan, the department has only obligated $458 million of this funding,” the group wrote. “VA should be able to fulfill its statutory obligation to provide veterans with at-home COVID-19 testing with no cost-sharing.”
VA officials acknowledged receiving the letter but offered no additional response.
More than 563,000 VA patients and staffers have contracted coronavirus since the start of the U.S. pandemic in March 2020. More than 19,000 have died from complications related to the virus.
Active cases of the virus have surged at VA medical centers over the last month as the Omicron variant of the virus has spread through the country. The department reported more than 50,000 active in the system on Friday morning, down from a peak of nearly 78,000 earlier this month but still far above the pre-2022 record high of about 21,000 cases in January 2021.
Veterans with service-connected injuries and other health issues are more likely to suffer significant complications because of the virus, which attacks the body’s respiratory system.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.