WASHINGTON — House lawmakers criticized the Department of Veterans Affairs on Wednesday for its lax oversight of state veterans homes, arguing the department was partially to blame for deadly outbreaks of the coronavirus at some facilities.
Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said during a hearing on the matter that the epidemic exposed a “critical shortage of oversight” at state veterans homes.
State veterans homes receive some funding from the VA and undergo yearly inspections by the department. However, they’re operated by state governments. About 20,000 veterans reside in 157 state veterans homes nationwide. The homes receive about $1 billion total in federal funding.
The Government Accountability Office investigated the VA’s oversight of state veterans homes in 2019. The GAO found, in some cases, the VA was the only federal entity to inspect the homes to see whether they met standards of care.
The department contracted with a third party to perform all of its inspections in 2018, said Sharon Silas, who is with the GAO. The VA allowed contractors to ignore some deficiencies at the homes, and in some cases contractors permitted leaders of state veterans homes to fix problems during inspections to avoid being cited. The VA still has not completed all of the recommendations that the GAO made in 2019 to improve inspections, Silas said Wednesday.
“As it stands now, I have to wonder how many lives could’ve been saved at state veterans homes during this pandemic if there had been stronger, more consistent oversight on the part of the VA,” Takano said.