VIDEO: Bustos Questions VA Secretary on Coronavirus Response, Transportation for Rural Veterans

CLICK HERE for a video of Congresswoman Bustos questioning Secretary Wilkie

Washington – Today, Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (IL-17), a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, questioned Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Robert Wilkie during a Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee hearing. Congresswoman Bustos asked Secretary Wilkie how the VA is coordinating with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to ensure veterans are educated about preventing the coronavirus and how the VA would respond in case there was an outbreak among veterans. Congresswoman Bustos also inquired if the VA would consider expanding travel reimbursements for veterans traveling to veterans centers in rural or urban areas.

“Our veterans have earned the best care in the world, and unfortunately, many of our older veterans are at high-risk of contracting coronavirus. As we continue to monitor the likely spread of the coronavirus it is essential that coordination across federal agencies – including the VA – occurs,” Congresswoman Bustos said. “That’s why I asked Secretary Wilkie today what initiatives they are taking to protect the health of our veterans and how the agency is working alongside HHS to do so. I was also pleased to hear that the VA agrees we should expand travel reimbursements for veterans, because where veterans decide to live following their service should not determine the quality of care they receive. I’ll keep doing everything in my power to ensure veterans across our region have reliable access to care.”

Last week, Congresswoman Bustos asked Secretary of HHS Alex Azar about the Administration’s efforts to prepare local providers for the coronavirus. Congresswoman Bustos also encourages Illinoisans to routinely follow updates and instructions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention out of concern for the health and safety of our families.

You can watch Congresswoman Bustos question Secretary Wilkie on the coronavirus here.

In Illinois’ 17th Congressional District, it’s not uncommon for veterans to face an hours-long drive to receive certain types of care – many also must travel out-of-state to Iowa or Wisconsin. That’s why Congresswoman Bustos inquired about how the VA is working to alleviate travel concerns and if they have considered reimbursing travel costs when veterans travel to Vet Centers. Congresswoman Bustos asked if the VA would be supportive of permanently treating VA Vet Centers as VA Medical Facilities for the purpose of providing travel reimbursement for veterans in rural or urban areas and what barriers there are to expand this reimbursement to all veterans. In response, officials from the VA indicated they would be supportive of expanding this program. As a longtime advocate for veterans, Congresswoman Bustos included language in year-end funding bills that directed the VA to spend $5 million toward a pilot program to address transportation obstacles faced by rural veterans. 

You can watch Congresswoman Bustos question Secretary Wilkie on travel here.