Government Accountability Office Agrees to Audit of VA Oversight of Care Quality at State Veterans Homes

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The following is a media release from Sen. Ed Markey and Sen Elizabeth Warren’s offices. Both were elected by voters in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to serve the state in Washington DC in the US Senate. Both are Democrats.

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WASHINGTON DC – United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Bob Casey (D-Penn.) today applauded the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) decision to conduct a review of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) oversight of quality of care at State Veterans Homes (SVHs). 

The senators had requested the audit earlier this month following a spike in veteran deaths and other reported care deficiencies at SVHs across the nation during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The SVHs are state-managed facilities, but receive VA funding and are subject to VA quality of care standards. 

“Our veterans are among the most vulnerable to coronavirus, and they deserve the very best care during this public health emergency,” said Senator Warren. “The GAO’s decision to investigate VA’s oversight of our State Veterans Homes is a good step toward improving the quality of care for our veterans and preventing future outbreaks at facilities in Massachusetts and nationwide.”

“When it comes to ensuring our most vulnerable veterans are properly protected in State Veterans Homes, we’ve got to take a comprehensive approach,” said Ranking Member Tester. “I’m glad GAO is answering our call to review VA’s oversight of quality of care at State Veterans Homes, ensuring we have transparency at the highest level. We must continue to provide these facilities with the resources and support they need to get through this crisis, and work collectively to develop oversight mechanisms that’ll work well into the future.”

“I am pleased that the GAO is moving forward with this review of VA oversight of State Veteran Homes,” said Senator Markey. “I have been deeply disturbed by reports from the Soldier’s Home in Holyoke, and this effort will help inform how we can best protect the health and safety of veteran residents and staff at facilities across the Commonwealth and the country.”

The GAO has also agreed to the senators’ request for an update on the VA’s progress implementing GAO’s July 2019 recommendations for VA to improve its oversight of SVHs and the transparency regarding its assessments of these facilities. State Veterans Homes are state-operated and managed facilities that provide nursing home, home, or adult day care to veterans, and they represent the majority of the veterans who receive nursing home care.

While the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) conducts oversight for about two-thirds of SVHs (i.e., those that receive Medicare or Medicaid payments), VA is the only entity that conducts annual inspections of all SVHs in order to assess their compliance with VA quality standards.

A VA-recognized State Veterans Home may receive payments from VA to help fund all or some of the costs associated with caring for veterans.

Last month, Senators Warren and Markey led Massachusetts lawmakers in writing to the VA New England Health Care System asking what steps it is taking to assist Massachusetts State Veterans Homes in coronavirus mitigation.

Letter from GAO (PDF) | Senators’ Initial Request (PDF)

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