Order Code RS22279
September 23, 2005
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Hurricane Katrina and Veterans
Sidath Viranga Panangala
Analyst in Social Legislation
Domestic Social Policy Division
Hurricane Katrina that struck the Gulf Coast has had a major impact on the
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities located in the region. Before and after
the storm struck VA was able to evacuate patients and staff to other VA facilities
without any loss of life. This report provides a brief overview of steps currently taken
by VA and Congress to address the needs of veterans in the affected areas. It will be
updated as events warrant.
Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005, causing widespread
damage in an approximately 90,000 square mile area of the southeastern United States.
Furthermore, a key levy protecting the city of New Orleans failed, and much of the city
flooded. This natural disaster has had a major impact on Department of Veterans Affairs
(VA) facilities located along the Gulf Coast. This report provides a brief overview of
VA’s response to the disaster and steps currently taken by VA and Congress to address
the needs of veterans in the affected areas.
Veteran Population and VA Facilities
There are approximately 1.5 million veterans living in the three states of Alabama,
Louisiana and Mississippi. About 50% of these veterans are receiving benefits from VA.
Of these, an estimated 26,000 veterans are receiving disability compensation in the state
of Mississippi, and 37,000 in Louisiana. No data on Alabama are available. It should be
noted that not all veterans in these states were directly affected by the hurricane. VA
facilities in the three-state area include: 11 VA medical centers, 18 community-based
outpatient clinics (CBOCs), three regional offices, and eight national cemeteries. The
hurricane impacted the following facilities: the Gulfport, Mississippi and New Orleans,
Louisiana medical centers; New Orleans regional benefits office; five CBOCs along the
Gulf Coast; and the Biloxi VA National Cemetery. According toVA, as of September 7,
2005, all five CBOCs and the Biloxi National Cemetery are operational. The VA medical
center in New Orleans suffered extensive water damage and is non-operational, and the
VA medical center in Gulfport, Mississippi, has been completely destroyed.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
VA’s Response to Katrina
As events unfolded VA’s Crisis Response Team (CRT) at the agency’s Readiness
Operations Center (ROC) monitored the developments in the disaster affected area. By
September 7, 2005, VA had evacuated all 241 patients, 272 employees and 342 family
members from the New Orleans VA medical center to the following VA medical centers:
Houston, Texas; Alexandria, Louisiana; Jackson, Mississippi; and Shreveport, Louisiana.
Furthermore, according to VA, all patients and staff at the VA medical center in Gulfport,
were evacuated before the hurricane reached land. As of September 7, 2005, all CBOCs
in the affected areas were operational, and VA had deployed seven mobile clinics to
Mississippi and Louisiana.1
Patient electronic health records have been relocated from New Orleans to Houston.
All prescription records for VA pharmacists are available through the Katrina Veteran
Response (KVR) system. VA uses the Consolidated Mail Outpatient Pharmacy (CMOP)
system, composed of seven facilities, to expedite the processing and distribution of
mail-out prescriptions to veterans. More than 50% of VA prescriptions are filled by the
CMOP. The primary CMOP serving the hurricane impacted areas is the MidSouth
CMOP in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The MidSouth CMOP is coordinating with package
delivery vendors to help assure delivery of packages.2
VA has also taken steps to continue providing benefits such as compensation and
pension payments and education benefits. According to the VA, it will be issuing
replacement checks to beneficiaries who cannot receive mail or access funds. Veterans
and beneficiaries who do not have access to their banks or who normally receive a paper
check can obtain a replacement check by calling 1-800-827-1000 or by visiting any VA
regional office in the country. If educational institutions that veterans are attending were
closed in the affected areas, VA will continue to provide education benefits as well as
vocational rehabilitation benefits to veterans so that they can continue their education or
vocational rehabilitation elsewhere. VA has made plans to send counselors and benefit
specialists to evacuation sites to provide assistance to displaced veterans who need
assistance in obtaining their veterans benefits.
Information for veterans, families of patients in the affected areas, and VA
employees is available by calling 1-800-507-4571 and on the Internet at
The VA serves as a support agency for a number of federal activities in the response
to a presidentially declared disaster, pursuant to the National Response Plan (NRP).3 One
The mobile clinics are located in the following areas: Hattiesburg, MS (two clinics); Hammond,
LA (two clinics); McComb, LA (one clinic); Jennings, LA (one clinic); and Lafayette, LA (one
Most of this information is drawn from the VA Under Secretary for Health Jonathan B. Perlin,
briefing to congressional staff on Hurricane Katrina Response, Sept. 8, 2005.
Department of Homeland Security, National Response Plan, Dec. 2004, p. ESF-vi, at
important role is in support of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS),
which coordinates NRP Emergency Support Function (ESF) #8: Public Health and
Medical Services.4 Upon request, the VA assists the Secretary of HHS with numerous
ESF#8 responsibilities. VA is responsible for 49 Federal Coordinating Centers (FCCs),
which are components of the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS).5 FCCs are VA
and military centers that identify and coordinate available hospital beds (both civilian and
military), additional personnel and supplies, and technical assistance during mass casualty
incidents. In response to Hurricane Katrina, VA activated 17 of its FCCs, and received
a number of mission assignments to identify available healthcare resources.
In response to this disaster several measures have been introduced in the House and
Senate. H.R. 3666, if enacted, would provide veterans in affected areas access to VA
health care until August 31, 2007, regardless of their priority enrollment status. This
measure would allow Priority Group eight veterans in the hurricane-affected areas to
obtain VA care; allow veterans in such areas to obtain care without having to produce
financial records for means testing purposes; and require VA to provide outreach to
veterans covered by the bill.6 H.R. 3670 would extend, for persons affected by the
hurricane, the time for appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims of
decisions of the Board of Veterans Appeals that are rendered during the period from June
1, 2005, through November 30, 2005. H.R. 3727, would among other things, make
available suitable VA foreclosed homes for the use of nonprofit organizations, with
preference to veterans’ service organizations and state or local governments, to provide
shelter for hurricane-affected families for up to two years. Priority would be given to
veterans and their families. S.1646, if enacted, would among other things, provide health
care services for Priority Group 8 veterans affected by hurricane Katrina who are currently
unable to enroll in the VA health care system. 7 Some provisions from S.1646 were
included as a second degree amendment to the Veterans Health Care Act of 2005 (S.1182)
that was reported out of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on September 15, 2005.
Ibid., ESF#8 Annex.
NDMS provides national medical response capability with deployable medical teams and
coordinating activities. NDMS is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency
(FEMA), but is under the coordination of HHS when the NRP is activated during a disaster. For
more information on NDMS, see [http://www.ndms.dhhs.gov], and CRS Report RL33096,
Hurricane Katrina: The Public Health and Medical Response, by Sarah A. Lister.
VA has eight priority enrollment groups, with Priority Group 1 veterans — those with serviceconnected disabilities rated 50% or more — having the highest priority for enrollment. By
contrast, Priority Group 8 veterans are primarily veterans with no service-connected disabilities
with incomes above $25,842 for a veteran with no dependents, above $31,013 for a veteran with
one dependent, and above a geographic means test. Geographic means test figures are available
For a detailed description of the current enrollment process and priority enrollment groups see
CRS Report RL32975, Veterans’ Medical Care: FY2006 Appropriations, by Sidath Viranga
Under this bill, veterans who resided, as of August 29, 2005, in New Orleans, Louisiana
Biloxi, Mississippi or Gulfport, Mississippi would be eligible to receive health care from
VA regardless of their enrollment status until January 31, 2006. Furthermore, these
veterans would not have to pay any copayments for the care they receive. S. 1182 is
awaiting Senate action.
It is anticipated that VA will request additional funding for FY2006 to repair and
replace VA facilities damaged by the hurricane. The two emergency supplemental
measures (P.L. 109-61 and P.L. 109-623) enacted by Congress have not specifically
provided any funding for VA. However, the second supplemental (P.L. 109-62) permitted
the Department of Defense (DOD) to transfer up to $6 million to the Armed Forces
Retirement Home to cover the costs for residents who were evacuated from the U.S.
Naval Home in Mississippi, a retirement home for certain retired military personnel, to
the U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's Home in Washington, D.C.