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Kaitlynne Hetrick | June 15, 2020

#AdvocacyUpdate: May Job Numbers, VA Testifies Before House and Senate, and More!

On June 5, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the most recent unemployment data and veteran unemployment fell almost three points, from 11.7% to 9%, while the general population unemployment rate only dropped 1.4%. For post-9/11 veterans, the unemployment rate stayed in the double-digit range at 10.3% but that was a 2.7% decrease from 13% in April. Last year, at this time the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans was 2.8%. Read more about it HERE.

On Tuesday, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on “Building a More Resilient VA Supply Chain.” Dr. Richard A. Stone, Executive in Charge, Veterans Health Administration (VHA), as well as other representatives from VA, testified and answered questions on their preparedness should the second COVID-19 wave occur. While initially, Dr. Stone stated that they were prepared, he later divulged that VA would need a 6-month supply of PPE if a second wave hits; VA currently has a 30-day supply. Read more about the hearing HERE and you can watch the hearing HERE.

VA also testified before the House Veterans Affairs Committee on “Assessing VA’s Response to COVID-19: 90 Days Later.” VA currently has over 1,400 COVID-19 deaths and the number is rising. Dr. Stone stated in the hearing that VA does not currently have on-demand testing available at all VA facilities and that VA has seen a shortage of necessary testing elements, such as swabs. To date, VA has over 16,000 total COVID-19 cases, 1,685 are still considered active, an 11% increase over the past week. 1,709 VA employees have been diagnosed with the virus and 34 of those employees have died. Watch the full hearing HERE and you can read more about it HERE.

Update from Secretary Wilkie

On June 11, IAVA CEO Jeremy Butler and EVP Tom Porter received another weekly update from VA Secretary Wilkie. He pushed back against the narrative in the media and on Capitol Hill that the VA doesn’t have enough PPE.  Wilkie said that he is going to a new supply system that is not available to the entire country.

In new messaging aimed at those who criticize VA’s use of Hydroxychloroquine on veterans, he said those critics are “insulting” front line, medical providers.

Nearly all National Cemeteries have opened up more to varying levels based on conditions, except for Long Island and Calverton in New York.

New Burn Pit Legislation

Last week, new IAVA-backed #BurnPit legislation was introduced by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rob Portman (R-OH), and Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Brian Mast (R-FL. The Heath Robinson Burn Pit Transparency Act (H.R. 7072/S.3885) aims to expand the number of veterans that know about and provide Congress more information about those in, the VA’s Burn Pit Registry. The bill is named for Heath Robinson, an Ohio veteran who passed away in May from lung cancer. His cancer was suspected to be caused by exposure to open burn pits during his deployment to Iraq. IAVA is proud to support this piece of legislation and we urge Congress to swiftly pass it. 

New Cosponsor for IAVA-Backed Legislation

IAVA gained a new Cosponsor for the Commander John Scott Hanon Mental Healthcare Improvement Act (S.785). Thank you to Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) for supporting improvements in veteran mental healthcare and IAVA’s continuous efforts to combat suicide in the veteran community. 

QRF
We know that this time can be stressful and IAVA’s Quick Reaction Force (QRF) is here to help! This program provides confidential 24/7 peer-to-peer support, comprehensive care management, and resource connections. To get connected to a Veteran Care Manager for immediate help anytime, day or night, please call 1-855-91RAPID or fill out our online form here. If you are a veteran or a veteran family member facing challenges or have questions, QRF can help by providing 24/7 peer support and providing connections to quality resources so you can get back on your feet and meet your goals.

If you are currently experiencing a crisis please contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1.800.273.8255, and press 1. Alternatively, use the Crisis Text Line by texting “RISING” to 741741.

Here are some helpful links if you or someone you know is seeking more information

The VA launched its new public health website HERE.
The DoD coronavirus response page is HERE.
If you are a TRICARE beneficiary, see guidance HERE.
Centers for Disease Control guidance HERE.

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