[This article has been written in anticipation of Veterans Day on November 11th, next Wednesday.]
Just as they did during their military service, our veterans are carrying a burden of heavy casualties in this war against COVID-19. For it is, yet again, a war for them as well as the Veterans Administration (VA) caregivers, and it is being poorly supported by politicians in Washington.
A few days ago, I went to the Veterans Administration website to view the plight of our soldiers, since COVID-19 reporting in the U.S. does not track by the category “veteran.” This site provides a window, however fogged or distorted, into what is taking place in our veteran population so that we might compare them to the general population.
“The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is the largest integrated health system in the United States with more than nine million enrolled Veterans and over six million Veterans receiving healthcare each year. VA employs nearly 380,000 individuals including more than 350,000 professionals within the Veterans Health Administration. This report summarizes what we know about the status of COVID-19 patients who have been tested or treated at VA facilities.”
The news on the VA COVID-19 site is disheartening:
According to the most current figures as I write, nearly 80,000 COVID-19 cases have been recorded at VA medical facilities. Of that number, just over 4,000 have died. Meaning that the rate of death is 5%. Overall, COVID-19 cases in the U.S. now stand at 9.5 million, with just over 233,000 deaths, which is a rate of 2.5%. Do the simple math. Veterans are evidently dying at twice the rate. It could be that the wide age distribution in the general population affects overall COVID-19 death rates and is not comparable to the age distribution within the VA population. Nonetheless, 5% vs. 2.5% gives one pause.
Granted, this is an imperfect analysis in that the VA site includes VA employees (64 deaths to date). Further, the death toll is separated into those who die of COVID-19 while a patient in a VA facility plus “known others,” i.e. veterans who tested positive for COVID-19 at the VA but died at home or at another medical site not affiliated with the VA. An article from November 3rd by the AARP (Veterans Affairs System Coronavirus Deaths Top 4,000; Cases Are Above 77,000) also provides not only overall information on COVID-19 and veterans but contains descriptions of some of the issues facing veterans in various areas of the U.S.
-Note: In an earlier article (Veterans, COVID, and a Flag at Half-Staff), I described the actions of a group of veterans here in Bellingham who take care of the Veterans Flag in Fairhaven. The flag has been flying at half staff since April, by agreement among all the flag committee members, to honor veteran victims of COVID-19.