Veterans Corner January 2020

VA Steps Up Screening, Restrictions At Medical Centers

Veterans Affairs medical facilities across the country are screening patients and restricting visitors to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus as the agency grapples with five cases of COVID-19. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, as of March 17, said visitors are not allowed at the agency’s roughly 135 nursing homes, which house more than 8,000 veterans, saying those facilities are “going into an emergency situation.”

One veteran has a confirmed case of the virus, VA officials said. Four others have tested positive, but as of March 17 those findings have not yet been confirmed.

The agency did not specify where the veterans are, saying they are “either in isolation at home, in accordance with CDC guidelines, or being cared for in isolation by staff who are specially trained on the latest CDC treatment guidelines and utilizing personal protective equipment and infection control techniques.”

Wilkie said a veteran with the virus was being treated at the VA hospital in Palo Alto, California. Another veteran who tested positive was being treated in the North Las Vegas VA hospital, according to the Nevada Independent. A third was being treated at the VA hospital in New Orleans, the first presumptive case in Louisiana, The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate reported Monday. VA spokeswoman Christina Mandreucci told USA TODAY none of the patients had died. She declined to provide more information about their cases or how they might have contracted the virus, citing privacy concerns.

The Dept. of Veterans Affairs is the nation’s largest integrated health care system with 170 hospitals and more than 1,000 outpatient clinics that serve nearly 9 million veterans across the country. According to department estimates, roughly half of veterans are more than 65 years old and many have underlying health conditions that could make them more vulnerable.

“We will get over this and we will make sure everything is done to protect those who have done so much for our country,” Wilkie said on March 17 at an American Legion conference in Washington.

Coronavirus impacts at the agency have not been limited to its health care facilities. The VA canceled a sports clinic scheduled later in March in Colorado, where hundreds of disabled veterans were scheduled to ski, sled and play hockey. 

Veterans’ organizations are trying to ensure members get as much information as possible about how the VA is addressing the outbreak.