WASHINGTON— The VA is using recently allocated federal funds to help some of its most vulnerable beneficiaries – those who are homeless, suffering from mental-health issues or in state-run veterans’ home.

The agency received $17.2 billion from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act, signed into law in late March, to support the department’s response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Since the president signed the CARES Act, VA has been moving quickly to implement the president’s intent to hire new staff, take care of homeless veterans, use our cutting-edge telehealth technology to keep appointments, help state-run veterans homes,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.

Homelessness poses a significant challenge to efforts to control spread of the coronavirus. With the sharp spike in unemployment, many advocates fear veterans who have recently found housing through programs implemented by the VA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), municipalities, and non-profit organizations could suddenly find themselves once again on the street.

The CARES Act will enable the VA to increase the support given to organizations that assist veterans in recognition of the “today’s more difficult economic circumstances,” the VA said.

The telehealth funding will be focused on cooperative initiatives with telecommunications companies to provide free or reduced cost access to mental health services through a telehealth connection or VA’s Video Connect service.

State-run veterans’ homes have particularly struggled during the pandemic. While the department reported that 3,504 veterans who receive care on an inpatient or outpatient basis through the VA have contracted the disease and 174 of those veterans have died as of April 9, the fatality rates at state-run veteran homes have been much higher.

The coronavirus caused 10 deaths and was implicated in the deaths of another 27 residents in a Paramus, NJ, veterans’ home since March 28. Another six residents of the New Jersey Veterans Home have been hospitalized and 70 more residents and more than 60 staff had tested positive, northjersey.com reported.

The National Guard had been called in to help the facility, where three patients die on average each week, but 30 died in the first week of April. The mayor of Paramus told the website that residents of long-term care facilities accounted for at least half of all reported coronavirus cases and three-quarters of the reported deaths in the city.

Veterans homes in Edison and Vineland, NJ, also reported cases. The home in the Menlo Park area of Edison had 15 residents with positive cases. Eleven veterans with the disease are hospitalized and two have died. The New Jersey

At the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, MA., 27 veterans died between March 23 and April 8. At least 20 of the deceased were positive for coronavirus. An additional 65 residents had positive tests, as did 68 workers. The National Guard is providing clinical support for the home.

Five more veterans died at another state-run facility in Massachusetts, the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home, state officials reported on April 7. Four of the dead had confirmed coronavirus infections and results of the fifth were pending. A further 14 veterans and nine staff members had also tested positive, while 258 veterans were awaiting test results.

The Edward C. Allworth Veterans‘ Home in Lebanon, Ore., reported 19 positive cases and three deaths. Thirteen veterans at the home have recovered.