Department of Veterans Affairs leaders are preparing to request more than $16 billion in new funding to help the sprawling medical system respond to the continued coronavirus threat, according to multiple congressional officials involved in the matter.
The emergency funding plan was first reported by CNN. VA officials said there is no formal request before lawmakers at the moment.
"VA is planning for all contingencies but has not finalized any plans or made any requests,” said VA press secretary Christina Mandreucci.
But congressional staffers connected to the work said the department is already working on a massive supplemental funding package in anticipation of an increased number of sick patients entering the Veterans Health System, which currently serves about 9 million veterans.
The department — which requested a $240 billion-plus budget for fiscal 2021, the largest in VA history — has more than 1,200 locations across the country. Along with its missions to provide veterans health care and benefits, the department is also charged with being a back-up national health care system for the country in the event of a national emergency.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump was asked when VA may be tasked with taking in non-veteran patients to respond to the coronavirus outbreak.
“I’ll know the point,” he said. “It may be different for New York than for Iowa … When we see that coming, we’ll make a national declaration.”
It’s unclear whether the extra $16 billion would be used to respond to only veterans health care demands or preparation for larger-scale operations. CNN reported that planners within the department estimate as many as one in five VA patients could contract the illness.
Any such funding request would likely be included in the next emergency spending package under discussion by Congress. Earlier this month, lawmakers passed an $8.3 billion package focused on the public health care system. A second aid bill is expected to pass the Senate soon.
At least five veterans at five separate locations have tested positive for coronavirus. Thirty-three more are presumed positive.
On Monday, the VA system confirmed its first death connected to the illness, a veteran aged 70-plus from the VA Portland Health Care System who passed two days earlier.
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.