Per an announcement from the United States Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the federal Public Health Emergency created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic ended in May 2023. With the end of this Public Health Emergency (PHE) comes a number of shifts in policy that may specifically impact U.S. military veterans.
The Public Health Emergency for COVID-19
The federal government may declare a public health emergency in the face of a disorder, significant outbreak of an infectious disease, or other emergency or disaster that is determined to present a threat to the public.
Declaration of a public health emergency allows the federal government to release resources to handle a public health crisis. The COVID-19 Public Health Emergency has left a legacy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the effects of the Order include the following:
- The country now has tools to detect and respond to COVID-19 variants.
- The Public Health Emergency helped the country prepare for a potential surge of COVID-19 cases.
- The experts issued guidance on mitigation measures, including testing and masking.
How Will Veterans Be Affected by the End of the Public Health Emergency?
The end of the Public Health Emergency will impact many different groups of Americans, including veterans. Veterans and their families can expect the following changes as the country transitions away from the guidelines put into place during the COVID-19 PHE:
- Veterans experiencing homelessness will no longer receive the direct support they did under the Public Health Emergency. The assistance veterans received included food, clothing, hygiene products, and help with finding housing and completing housing assistance forms.
- Flexibility in prescribing controlled medications to veterans through telemedicine has not ended with the Public Health Emergency’s expiration. Doctors may continue prescribing controlled medications for veterans without having to complete an in-person physical examination first. (Note that the Drug Enforcement Agency has also proposed rules to make permanent the use of some telemedicine flexibilities for certain prescriptions.)
- During the Public Health Emergency, Veterans Affairs (VA) relaxed rules regarding telemedicine appointments, allowing the use of various video platforms for these appointments. With the PHE’s end, the VA returns to primarily using VA Video Connect for Telehealth in order to comply with HIPAA and protect patient privacy; Webex will be used only on a restricted basis.
- The Veterans Family Caregivers program will resume in-person visits for initial home care assessments, reassessments, and wellness checks.
- After the Public Health Emergency expired, the VA lost the authority to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to spouses and caregivers not enrolled in VA health care.
- After June 9, 2023, the VA is reinstating the pre-pandemic, 30-day deadline to submit for travel reimbursement. Veterans and caregivers will no longer have an extended deadline to apply for travel reimbursement for mileage and other travel expenses related to eligible veterans’ health care appointments.
As the country transitions out of the shadows of the COVID-19 pandemic, many populations will feel vulnerable, especially if they lose benefits that had been provided through the Public Health Emergency regulations. If you are a veteran impacted by these changes, consider researching the following resources: