What the coronavirus pandemic means for America’s veterans

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie discusses the steps being taken to protect America’s veterans from COVID-19.
6:21 | 03/18/20

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Transcript for What the coronavirus pandemic means for America’s veterans
You may know the VA for the work that it does for veterans with something that you may not know is that it's our nations backed up health care system in case of emergency. But if there are question son over whether the VA is prepared to jump in if the corona virus outbreak grows worse and serves more than nine million veterans and about a half of them are. Over 65 years old. Joining us now he is VA secretary Robert Wilkie who is also part of the president's corona virus task force thanks so much for joining us. The huge thank you for him so first give us an update on how many cases of the corona virus in VA is currently dealing ways and how many tests in the VA is administered. Well we've only we've only administered. Little over a hundred. We haven't seen the explosion that BA that the rest of the country has experienced we have 42. Veterans who we are now saying. When a loan using the word presumptive. We have 42 veterans that we feel have the virus we have sadly lost one veteran in Portland Oregon. Last week and we have the supplies we started actually prepared for this in January. So when the first case was reported in the United States and we have taken the president's charge to. Apply aggressive litigation throughout our system. And VA nurses that we talked to shared a concern of many medical professionals about a lack of protective gear we heard that in the story that proceeded you. That they need to administer the test safely dear nurses have enough medical supplies in protective gear. Well our our supplies are stable in fact I just got off the phone we are about ready to. Bring in hundreds of thousands of more masks we have thousands of violators that are ready to go again we. We have procedures in place as you mentioned at the beginning of of this piece and as the foundational response should America as well as a whole. Indeed us to augment civilian men and government health care systems. What's your message to VA health care workers who are concerned about being able to do their job safely. Well auctions are messages. Talk to your talked your leadership. The supplies are out there we are we as again we've started preparing. Back in January. The reports on any shortages would come to me we believe. Based on the information that I had just before I came here that are supply system is stable. And we are working across the country is as I said to aggressively mitigate. And the impact this has on our veterans. Anyhow in dealing with social distancing in your hospitals and you're waiting rooms as normal care still being provided for veterans should. Well we we've done something that put us ahead of the rest of the country we began. Eliminating. Regular visits to several weeks ago. We began canceling. Elective surgeries. We stopped visitation. Several days ago actually ten days ago. To our community living centers and our spinal cord units. To free up our people so that they are not they're not unnecessarily exposed to anyone coming in again it's part of the aggressive. Mitigation procedures that we practice on a daily basis. The other thing that that I would add we do rehearse these things for instance in the hurricanes that hit North Carolina. Last year we were able to bring in to augment famous response. Doctors nurses and engineers policeman. From across the country. We provide. The basis. For famous response to natural disasters and epidemics. We have 3000. VA employees were part of the disaster emergency. Medical response system they are ready to deploy when we arrest. And any treatments at all air been halted or. Even curious not mental health care. Well that is where we are most aggressive and area had been in contact her office has been in contact. With the city of New York we're actually sending a mobile veterans' mental health. Team. Into New York City to help with the veterans. Who are in need of those mental health services we are able to insert this care in ways that the civilian health care system cannot do. We're ahead of the curve when it comes to. Then you're confidence actually makes me feel more confident but certainly many Americans are worried that as this pandemic goes on hospitals may run out of beds the VA's forty engineers to provide as we talk you know civilian health care hospitals run out of space. Do you have enough beds and enough employees to deal of the potential onslaught and and how it excepting civilians impacted department's ability to care for veterans. Well we will respond to the president and to HHS when we are asked we've been discussing for the last few weeks. How to augment the number of beds that we have. Right now we are in a better position because stopping elective surgeries will free up many of the beds that we have. We actually began in February. To convert many of our best to what they called negative pressure bands which means we can put a veteran. With the virus in those bands. And the error that is circulating will not go beyond that room. So we are now concentrating. On building up our supply of that particular type of care to meet this crisis. And let's go back to the testing of we can from a what we learned late this afternoon Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn nets tested positive for corona virus. A whole NBA teams are now being tested regardless of their symptoms. You told us a few minutes ago the VA has conducted about a hundred test is it harder for veterans to get tested than NBA players. On no I don't think so we just haven't had the surge. That the rest of the country his head now that may be an anomaly. And as doctors found she said to you all earlier in the day. There's no guarantee of anything. We do have testing kits on on hand now. We have over 2000 CDC kits we have over a thousand of our own. I was on the phone with our our people earlier today we expect to get more from the private sector this week. So we will be we're continuing to ramp up our supplies. In the event that we do get that search. Mr. Robert Wilkie thank you so much for your time we really appreciate that thank you for thank you for which you're doing to.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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