AMVETS National Headquarters has monitored the spread of a novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19 once it affects the human body, since our country was first alerted to the first known case in the Pacific Northwest on January 20, 2020.
We remain in close contact with senior VA officials and clinicians in the field, as well as senior leadership from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as we stand ready to serve as a “force multiplier” should our national network of AMVETS posts, departments, service officers, and national staff be needed.
Nationally, as of March 28, 2020, VA is tracking 778 cases of veteran patients with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. As this is a rapidly evolving situation, we expect that VA will provide updated information as it becomes available and verified. We remain focused on several sites where the virus has had its highest prevalence. These include the VA medical centers located in Atlanta.; Bronx, N.Y.; Denver; New Orleans; Brooklyn, NY; and Washington, D.C.
There have been 16 reported veteran deaths from complications associated with COVID-19, with most occurring in the 60- to 70-year age range. No veteran deaths occurred below the age of 60, which is somewhat commendable given the wide prevalence and impact of the virus. As of March 27, there were 309 service members across the Defense Department branches who tested positive for COVID-19. Of those, 34 have made a full recovery and 12 remain hospitalized.
AMVETS commends the VA for embracing its Fourth Mission, to reinforce community health providers in the event of a national emergency. Reportedly, New York City-based VA medical centers will open up 50 beds to non-veteran patients in the area so that community health services have the extra capacity to deliver care as demand continues to grow. Since 1982, when Congress expanded the VA’s role to include caring for anyone in times of crisis, we’d only seem this mission take form after Hurricane Katrina. The moment is now upon the agency to once again rise to the occasion, and we are confident it will.
As VA employees who work in healthcare are critical to containing and treating COVID-19 among veterans, we are also closely monitoring its impact on clinical staff. By law, a VA employee who is not a veteran cannot be tested at the VA and must go to a private doctor for testing and treatment. Community labs are reportedly backed up as tests, both within and outside VA, remain in short supply.
We are also aware that protective equipment, such as N95 masks, and hand sanitizer are becoming increasingly scarce, so we are pleased to see VA Occupational Health offices taking aggressive steps to help keep contact with affected patients at a minimum and regularly screen VA employees for illness and COVID-19 exposure.
In closing, I am deeply moved by the demonstrations of courage and commitment among clinicians we are seeing at VA medical centers across the nation, as well as those veterans who are stepping up to serve in uniform once again to answer the nation’s call. In Iraq and Afghanistan, I had served alongside many of these men and women as running toward the sound of danger to heal the fallen became our routine. For that reason, it is no surprise to see them volunteer without hesitation. It makes me proud to be a veteran, a nurse, and an American.
Cherissa Jackson, RN, USAF Retired
AMVETS National Chief Medical Executive
Contact: Miles Migliara, National Communications Manager, AMVETS
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