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VA Sees Natural Disaster Response as Part of Agency’s Fourth Mission

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been dispatching medical personnel and other support to areas impacted by extreme weather activity.

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The Department of Veterans Affairs is dispatching medical personnel and other support to areas impacted by Hurricane Ida, a process Secretary Denis McDonough said is vital to the agency’s mission. The agency is also requesting budgetary support to better enable VA to respond to storms and other natural disasters.

The agency has mobilized this Fourth Mission, or obligation to provide medical support and other forms of emergency assistance during times of national crisis, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic during situations of overflow within civilian hospitals. And amid Hurricane Ida, the agency extended its support by providing refuge to displaced veterans, including opening space in VA centers located within the Louisiana cities of Shreveport and Monroe where the hurricane made landfall late last month.

This emergency response process also includes dispatching VA employees to crisis areas, a process the agency has overseen following recent natural disasters.

“VA employees have been on the ground for every emergency that’s happened over the past couple of months,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough at a recent press conference with reporters in Washington, DC. “For example, in response to Hurricane Ida, more than 180 VA employees have deployed to Louisiana as disaster emergency medical personnel, otherwise known as DEMPs.”

VA appears to be considering this allocation of labor, facility space and resources to disaster response within its budgetary requests, with the agency requesting funding commensurate to the technical capacities and physical infrastructure necessary to support this scope of response.

“The House has started this process to get us this $18 billion in extra investment in our infrastructure … as we look at that infrastructure investment package, we’re taking a very serious look at how to make it consistent with the requirements in a changed climate,” McDonough said.

McDonough noted that DEMPs will be crucial for supporting areas hit by storm activity and other natural disasters, with this corps representing the forefront of the VA’s disaster response.

“Clinicians in our system can sign up through DEMPS, and we’re doing that both as it relates to intense weather events, but we’re also doing it in the context of COVID,” McDonough said.

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