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As COVID-19 emergency money ends, VA prepares for funding reduction

Veteran homelessness had dropped 11% during the pandemic.
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A homeless U.S. Army veteran shows a folded up five dollar bill prior to entering a convenience store in the Chinatown District of Honolulu, Hawaii, Aug. 15, 2016. (Tech. Sgt. Brandon Shapiro/U.S. Air Force)

The official end of the national COVID-19 health emergency Thursday means the end of a slew of programs that benefit veterans, ranging from cash assistance to stave off homelessness to remote doctor visits.

The cutbacks come as the federal Public Health Emergency over COVID-19 declared in March 2020, comes to an end. With it will go the authorization and funding for about a dozen stop-grap programs within the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“VA has been preparing for this moment for months, working to make this transition as seamless as possible for veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors,” the VA said in a statement on the cutbacks. “VA is also working with our partners in the administration and in Congress to extend or reinstate many of these authorities when possible.”

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The cuts include some programs aimed at reducing veteran homelessness, which has dropped during the pandemic by 11%.

According to annual counts made by the VA in conjunction with other federal agencies, there were 33,136 veterans “experiencing homelessness” on a single night in January 2022 — a drop of more than 4,000 from the same study in January 2020.

In a release, the VA called the reduction the “biggest drop in more than five years.” 

Veteran homelessness has been falling for over a decade, with the VA reporting a 55% drop since 2010.

Since March 2020, the VA has used emergency powers and funding to expand access to cash and services under the Supportive Housing Program, a joint program between the VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD.

The programs aimed at reducing homelessness cut or pared back on Thursday include:

  • Direct payments as rental assistance or per diem payments, along with provisions of food, shelter, clothing, blankets, and hygiene through local partners.
  • Transportation services to appointments with service providers, housing searches, and food.
  • Smartphones, tablets, and other electronic equipment and service plans needed to arrange benefits and look for work.

President Donald Trump declared a Public Health Emergency in March 2020 as COVID cases exploded nationally. The declaration freed agencies of legal red tape to enact emergency policies and led to trillions of dollars of funding across the federal government.

The medical rules rolled back Thursday include:

  • Remote video for required visits and check-in under the Veteran Family Caregivers program (the required visits must now be in person).
  • The use of non-HIPPA-approved video services for telehealth (telehealth visits remain available to VA healthcare patients, but must now go through the VA’s approved telehealth portal).
  • The VA will no longer pay for Covid vaccinations for spouses or caregivers not enrolled in VA healthcare.

One policy that will remain is allowing VA clinicians to prescribe controlled medications through a telehealth examination without an initial in-person exam. Though the rule allowing that flexibility expires Thursday, the DEA announced a temporary rule that will allow VA clinicians to continue to prescribe controlled medications remotely through at least November 2024.

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