Management of state-run veterans homes to be investigated following COVID-19 deaths

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The Government Accountability Office has agreed to investigate how the Department of Veterans Affairs is handling state-run veterans homes, amid reports of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) related-deaths at facilities across the country.

On Thursday the GAO — the federal government's watchdog agency — responded to a letter from several democratic senators, stating that it would review the VA's oversight of state-run veterans homes and would measure whether the department had adequately implemented recommendations made in July 2019.

The GAO's letter was issued in response to a request from Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who asked that state-run veterans homes be reviewed to ensure veterans are receiving proper care. Lawmakers also want to know whether there is a system in place to accurately track the spread of the coronavirus at those facilities.

Veterans homes provide nursing, domiciliary, and full-time care to veterans, many of whom are elderly, face health complications, and may be at higher risk to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. These facilities are run and operated by the state, but the VA covers the cost, and conducts routine inspections to ensure they are up to the department's standards.

According to a report from the Associated Press, Christina Noel, a spokeswoman for the VA, said that states are “solely responsible for the operation, management and oversight of state-run veterans homes, and they are responsible for any problems that arise within them.”

The congressional request for a review comes as more reports emerge of veterans falling ill and dying at veterans homes across the country.

At the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in Massachusetts, more than 80 veterans have died due to the coronavirus.

In New Jersey, the commissioner charged with overseeing the state's veterans homes resigned following 103 confirmed coronavirus deaths, and more than 391 cases among veterans at the state-run facilities.

And at a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania home, 26 veterans had died due to COVID-19 as of April 25.

In an emailed statement to the Associated Press, Warren said that “the GAO’s decision to investigate VA’s oversight of our State Veterans Homes is a good step toward improving the quality of care for our veterans and preventing future outbreaks at facilities in Massachusetts and nationwide."

"When it comes to ensuring our most vulnerable veterans are properly protected in State Veterans Homes, we've got to take a comprehensive approach," Tester said in a press release. "I'm glad GAO is answering our call to review VA's oversight of quality of care at State Veterans Homes, ensuring we have transparency at the highest level."

To date, there have been more than 4.5 million confirmed coronavirus across the globe, and more than 304,000 deaths. In the United States alone, there are roughly 1.4 million cases and 86,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins

According to Veterans Affairs data, there are roughly 11,800 confirmed vases among veterans, resulting in 985 deaths.