FEMA Diverted Masks From Veterans Hospitals, VA Official Says

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) A respiratory nurse puts on a powered air purifying respirator helmet, or PAPR, before treating a COVID-19 patient on the Medical Intensive Care Unit floor, MICU, at the ... NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) A respiratory nurse puts on a powered air purifying respirator helmet, or PAPR, before treating a COVID-19 patient on the Medical Intensive Care Unit floor, MICU, at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center April 24, 2020 in the Manhattan borough of New York City. The Department of Veteran Affairs announced it was assisting New York City by admitting civilians suffering from COVID-19 in its Manhattan and Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn hospital facilities. A PAPR helmet contains a fan to provide air to medical staff working in a COVID-19 environment. New York City remains the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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April 25, 2020 5:00 p.m.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency diverted masks from veterans hospitals and into the government’s emergency stockpile, the executive in charge of the Department of Veterans Affairs claimed Saturday.

Health care workers at VA hospitals have for weeks warned of severely inadequate stocks of personal protective equipment. And in an interview with The Washington Post, the VA’s Executive in Charge Richard Stone pointed the finger at FEMA.

The agency, Stone told the Post, had directed vendors with VA orders to instead send equipment to FEMA for the federal stockpile of such supplies.

“I had 5 million masks incoming that disappeared,” Stone told the Post. Some VA hospitals, Stone acknowledged, are now on “austerity levels.”

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“The supply system was responding to FEMA,” Stone added. “I couldn’t tell you when my next delivery was coming in.”

In a statement to TPM, FEMA spokesperson Janet Montesi said “FEMA does not, has not and will not divert orders of PPE from our federal, state and local partners, nor do we have the legal authority to do so.”

“In support of VA and our nation’s veterans, to date FEMA has coordinated shipments of more than 4.3 million various types of respirator masks, 1 million facial/surgical masks, 1.5 million gloves and 14,000 face shields to VA facilities across the country,” Montesi said.

FEMA did tell the Post that following a request from VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, FEMA sent the VA 500,000 masks this week. But Stone told the Post that the VA system is using about 200,000 masks a day.

FEMA has redistributed supplies relevant to the COVID-19 pandemic pursuant to the Korean War-era Defense Production Act, which allows the federal government to dictate private supply chains.

Federal prosecutors on Friday brought their first DPA-related case during the COVID-19 pandemic against a Long Island man accused of price-gouging and hoarding supplies. Still, some shipments face scrutiny from the feds but are ultimately not seized.

This post has been updated.

Correction: This post erroneously referred to Dr. Richard Stone as the executive in charge of FEMA. He is the executive in charge of the VA.

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