VA secretary vows to fix any issues involving stimulus funds, veterans

Capitol Report

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Amid reports of some veterans experiencing delays with receiving the most recent stimulus payments, Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough told CBS 17 Monday he would look into the issue and vowed to “get that fixed.”

Last week, four members of Congress wrote a letter to the IRS and the Social Security Administration about the matter, saying they were “alarmed.” Click here to read.

They noted that “most Social Security, SSI, (Railroad Retirement Board), and VA beneficiaries who are not required to file a tax return have not yet received their payments and that the IRS is unable to provide an expected timeline for these payments.”

When told about the issue, McDonough said, “The President was insistent that there be resources set aside for our vets given everything they’ve done for us, in the American Rescue Plan. So, I’m going to make sure I’m staying on top of that. You’ve given me good intelligence to go get that fixed. I’ll work on it.”

The IRS said last week that people “will generally receive this third payment the same way as their regular benefits.”

The agency said it’s also working with the SSA, RRB and VA to get updated information on recipients.

In a statement last week, the Commissioner of Social Security Andrew Saul said his agency has been working with the IRS since President Joe Biden signed the latest stimulus plan, the American Rescue Act, into law earlier this month.

He said the Social Security Act prevented the agency from working with the Treasury and the IRS before the bill passed.

Since then, he said SSA worked to get the necessary files to the IRS and to verify the payments will go to the correct people.

Health care for veterans

McDonough said another key provision of the American Rescue Plan is approximately $14.5 billion designated for COVID-19 related healthcare for veterans.

An inspector general’s report last September found between March 15 and May 1, about 7.3 million appointments were canceled at VA medical facilities as the pandemic began and many states, including North Carolina, issued stay-at-home orders.

Of those canceled appointments about one-third had “no indication of follow-up or tracking” at the time the IG reviewed the issue.

McDonough said since then the VA has been able to contact between 95 and 96 percent of the people who had to cancel or postpone appointments in the last year, adding that the agency saw as many as 20 million appointments affected.

“The one thing we just don’t know, and we’re seeing this across the healthcare industry, is what’s going to happen in terms of foregone appointments and whether those lead to more complex issues to get resolved,” he said.

Some of the funding from the ARP will also be used for technological upgrades to better track the appointments and to be ready to treat those who might have delayed their health care, McDonough said.

“We have the resources. We have the capability. We have stayed in touch with them. So, let’s make sure we get them in or get them on telehealth platforms to get their medical issues addressed,” he said.

Vaccinations

The VA is also preparing to vaccinate millions more people after President Biden signed the SAVE LIVES Act into law last week.

The law allows the VA to vaccinate all veterans in addition to the spouses, caregivers and some beneficiaries. That can occur regardless of a veteran’s VA health care enrollment status.

It will make 33 million people eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccines through the VA, more than triple the current 9.5 million people who are eligible.

“If you’re not currently enrolled with the VA, we unfortunately need to get you enrolled in some computer system to get your information to the CDC. That’s probably going to take us a couple more days,” said McDonough. “As soon as we get the kind of supply we need to get spouses, caregivers and all of our veterans vaccinated, I think we’ll be in a good place to handle that.”

He said the agency is running pilot programs at certain VA medical centers in the meantime.

The VA has fully vaccinated about 1.6 million people.

The agency is currently receiving about 200,000 first or single doses of the vaccines each week. Officials estimate that number will need to triple to be able to offer vaccinations to everyone eligible under the new law.

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