U.S. Senators Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley are seeking answers from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) after emails, obtained by The Missouri Times, from officials warned veterans could be removed from long-term care facilities not in compliance.
The Missouri Times first reported on the emails, which were sent to long-term care facilities in Missouri contracted with the department to accept veterans who pay for care with VA benefits, earlier this month.
“Unfortunately if a contractor does not wish to comply with the EO or modification, the only option we have available is to begin the termination process and remove Veterans,” the email said.
The Republican lawmakers sent a letter to VA Commissioner Denis McDonough Tuesday, calling for information on its contract termination process, plans to move veterans from non-compliant homes to other facilities, and the possibility of contracts with other long-term care facilities to ensure veterans are relocated to facilities near their families.
“We are concerned that implementation of these federal vaccine mandates will cause Missouri’s long-term care facilities to lose their status as federal contractors with the VA and jeopardize the well-being of our veterans,” the senators said. “Additionally, we are concerned that federal vaccine mandates will create staffing shortages in long-term care facilities in Missouri, and that there will not be an open, compliant facility with sufficient staff capacity to accept veteran patients.”
Blunt and Hawley pointed to an emergency rule instituted by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) regarding emergency closures for health facilities facing staffing shortages due to vaccine mandates.
In their letter, Blunt and Hawley asked what the plan would be to transition veterans to different facilities and if that plan has been relayed to veterans and their families.
Additionally, the pair of Republicans asked if they would seek contracts with additional long-term care facilities. Only 45 long-term care facilities in Misssouri are currently contracted with the VA so veterans can pay for services using VA benefits.
The Biden administration has issued mandates requiring federal employees and contractors, employees at large companies, and health care workers under the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) umbrella to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 18.
As reported by The Missouri Times last week, an email from Paula Galvin, a health care branch chief with VA, provided guidance on how to navigate the new vaccine mandate for contractors.
“Unfortunately if a contractor does not wish to comply with the EO or modification, the only option we have available is to begin the termination process and remove Veterans,” Galvin’s email, provided to The Missouri Times, said.
A spokesperson for the VA said there is “no determination regarding movement of veterans” until CMS makes a final directive. For now, facilities are being directed to the Safe Federal Workforce FAQ which does not specifically address veterans in long-term care facilities or plans on where they would be placed if removed.
Gov. Mike Parson issued an executive order last month exempting state employees from COVID-19 vaccine mandates for religious or medical reasons.
Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who sued to stop the vaccine mandates, said the requirements are creating a “ripple effect” of issues, including uncertainty of veterans’ futures at facilities, throughout the health care industry.
Not every skilled nursing facility in Missouri is contracted with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to pay for the care of a veteran who qualifies for skilled nursing services. Facilities must apply to be a federal contractor with the VA, the department must agree there is a need for such a service, and the facility must pass inspections before they are accepted to be a contractor and be paid to care for a veteran with VA benefits.
If a facility is not approved by the VA to be a federal contractor — or if it loses or forfeits that status — the veteran would either have to move to a facility that is contracted with the VA or use personal, Medicaid, or Medicare funds to remain in their current facility.
Several administrators for long-term care facilities in Missouri spoke to The Missouri Times, both on the record and on background, about issues with workplace shortages and uncertainty over the ins and outs of the mandate.
“We are dealing with a lot of rural workforce issues, beyond the vaccine mandate for all health care workers. It is unimaginable that our federal government would work to evict veterans from skilled care nursing homes, but here we are,” April Hruska, an administrator at the Knox County Nursing Home, said.
Another nursing home administrator in northern Missouri, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the industry has faced a “rough last couple of years.”
“I’m worried about these veterans and their families. I’m just in shock that eviction is on the table for men and women who have served our country,” the administrator said.
Kaitlyn Schallhorn contributed to this report.
Cameron Gerber studied journalism at Lincoln University. Prior to Lincoln, he earned an associate’s degree from State Fair Community College. Cameron is a native of Eldon, Missouri.
Contact Cameron at firstname.lastname@example.org.