The Department of Veterans Affairs has sidestepped questions about its response to the coronavirus, veteran service organizations and congressional committees have said, even as the number of deaths at VA hospitals attributed to covid-19 eclipsed 500 on Friday.
Veterans advocates say that in particular, VA has not provided a complete picture concerning the continued use of hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug touted by President Trump that a study showed had no benefit in treating coronavirus patients and was linked to higher rates of death among veterans.
“Veterans need access to as much information as possible. And we need VA to provide that information,” said Chanin Nuntavong, the executive director for government and veteran affairs at the American Legion, a leading veteran service organization.
VA oversees the country’s largest integrated health system with more than 1,200 medical facilities, from sprawling hospitals to strip-mall clinics. Around 9.5 million veterans are enrolled in VA health care — about half of all U.S. veterans.
The agency has acknowledged shortages of personal protective equipment but said that has not impacted patient care. VA spokeswoman Christina Noel also said the agency, following FDA guidelines, permits the use of hydroxychloroquine only “after ensuring veterans and caretakers are aware of potential risks.”
Here are some key issues veterans advocates say VA officials have not addressed.
Use of hydroxychloroquine
Much of recent criticism launched at VA has centered on its use of hydroxychloroquine, a fixture in Trump’s briefings and on Fox News as a treatment until a study by VA and academic researchers said it was linked to a higher rate of deaths of veterans who received it.