Shaheen & Hassan Call on Administration to Fully Utilize Defense Production Act & Protect Veterans from COVID-19

April 23, 2020

“This Administration must prioritize VA’s sacred mission to care for our nation’s veterans who are especially vulnerable during this pandemic” 

(Washington, D.C.) – To better protect veterans, health care professionals, and all Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Jon Tester (D-MT) and 13 colleagues called on the Administration and its Coronavirus Task Force to make full use of the Defense Production Act (DPA).

The depletion of medical supplies nationally and a broken federal procurement and distribution process has left the Department of Veterans Affairs (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. 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, VA’s broken supply chain, and support the Department in its critical mission to protect veterans, health care workers, and communities from the virus.

“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 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 Supply Chain Task Force, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to work in a coordinated manner to support VA in its unique mission to serve as the nation’s back-up health care system in times of emergency.

The Senators highlighted, “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.”

Shaheen and Hassan have led efforts to secure urgently needed personal protective equipment for New Hampshire. With the state’s congressional delegation, the Senators have sent multiple letters to the Trump administration requesting rapid assistance to ensure New Hampshire health care providers have the supplies needed to address coronavirus cases the state is experiencing. In addition, Shaheen and Hassan sent a letter pressing the administration for information on the distribution of critical medical supplies, including personal protective equipment. The Senators repeatedly called for the President to invoke the Defense Production Act and introduced legislation to expedite the procurement of medical equipment, under the DPA. As a result of these calls and those from others, the President relented.

The Senators’ letter to Vice President Pence is available HERE.