Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, held a tele-town hall Tuesday to give veterans an update on current help being given, as well as providing them and their families a chance to ask questions.
Mr. Carbajal was joined by key figures in veteran affairs, including Dr. Steven E. Braverman, the director of the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.
Mr. Carbajal began the event by stating the help he has been able to provide through his political seat.
Under the CARES Act, which is a pandemic aid program and was passed on March 25, $20 billion in support was given to Veterans Affairs to help them find COVID-19 related equipment. It has also helped the expansion of telehealth visits, according to Mr. Carbajal.
The HEROES act, which passed the House of Representatives and is currently being delayed in the Senate, would provide a 25% increase in aid and attention for disabled veterans during the pandemic.
Additionally, it ensures that there are no co-pays for COVID-19 preventive services at VA facilities and would provide grants for children of homeless veterans.
It also suspends VA debt collection activities during the pandemic and extends deadlines to file claims and appeals amongst other things.
“I hope it is able to move sooner rather than later (through the Senate),” Mr. Carbajal said of the HEROES act.
“I don’t have to tell you that these are unprecedented times. With the recent turmoil and racial tension resulting from the tragic killing of George Floyd, to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. The House of Representatives recognize these challenges and I’m proud to be supporting or have already supported a number of legislative solutions to date.”
With many places reopening across the state and country, Dr. Braverman said he hopes to re-expand a lot of programs that the VA has had to decrease, including face-to-face visits.
The most important thing, however, is health and Dr. Braverman said that they will continue to monitor the numbers to see if there is any rise of COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks.
He also mentioned the important work the lab has done in making their own COVID-19 test.
“Because of that we were able to do some initial screening surveillance testing, so that we could identify and stop an outbreak of COVID-19 disease in our nursing homes and then we used that capability to do the testing for veterans in community nursing homes, even though they weren’t part of our facilities,” Dr. Braverman said.
Dr. Matt Goetz, an infectious disease expert, provided the extensive numbers of COVID-19, including the total worldwide number, as well as how it is affecting Southern California.
He brought up how California is averaging about 3,000 new cases per day, and how it is continuing to increase.
“Some of that is certainly due to the fact that California has offered a lot of testing. The amount of testing has increased. But, whereas in New York City, the number of cases in spite their testing has gone down in California, our number of cases has continued to increase,” Dr. Goetz said.
He then added that Santa Barbara County and Los Angeles County are amongst two hot spots in California that are continuing to see increases.
“We have reasons to be concerned in our communities. Within the VA, there have been over 16,000 cases of COVID-19 diagnosis and approximately 1,350 people have passed away,” Dr. Goetz said.
“We know that many people are suffering so as we re-expand our services we need to keep our eye on the ball.”
Dr. Neil Paige spoke about the expansion of in-person services, saying that each person wanting to enter the office will be screened beforehand.
They will be asked if they are experiencing any symptoms, such as fever, cough, shortness of breath or diarrhea and will have their temperatures checked.
People who test positive will be sent to a second screening area, most likely in a tent, and will be asked to not step inside the building.
“We are also increasing our procedural specialty appointments, including dental, procedural dermatology, eye clinic, physical medicine, physical therapy, podiatry and endoscopy,” Dr. Paige said.
Santa Barbara County specifically will also be expanding their video telehealth services.
While taking questions, Dr. Braverman addressed phone concerns by saying the VA has hired additional workers for telework and there is now only a 5% abandonment rate on calls, the lowest in years.
The Santa Maria VA Clinic also announced that it is in the final process of bringing in Volunteer Coordination after nearly a year of the position being vacant.
Other important information included: the time for VA reimbursing bills has been streamlined; emergency room procedures and visits are transitioning to prevent denials; and visiting VA.gov to look up the more than 200 urgent care providers.
There is also a VA video connect app on smartphones to allow people to message with a primary care team. There is also a new program for people without smartphones that will give veterans iPads to then download the app and talk with primary care teams.