The coronavirus pandemic has affected nearly every nation on earth and people from all backgrounds, but several at-risk groups have been identified. While the elderly are facing the brunt of the disease, veterans are also among the most hard-hit by COVID-19 due to economic and health reasons. Here are many ways in which veterans are most vulnerable to the threat of COVID-19.
Age and Health Risks
The median age of veterans in the United States is 64 and the largest group of veterans served during the Vietnam area. Along with age predisposing many veterans to life-threatening symptoms, many have also been exposed to hazards while serving that have left them more vulnerable to the coronavirus.
More than 2.8 million were exposed to Agent Orange while veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq faced oil fires and burn pits and thus have higher rates of respiratory illness and asthma.
Reduced Access to Care
VA hospitals throughout the U.S. are routinely understaffed with 43,000 vacancies out of more than 400,000 staff before the pandemic. Routine visits have also been postponed at VA medical centers since mid-March. Many veterans face long wait times to receive care through the VA health care system.
Staff shortages are bad enough that Veterans Affairs Department employees have been required to return to work even after being exposed to the coronavirus with discipline threats and AWOL status for those who do not.
Already, more than 5,000 patients and 1,600 VA staff members have tested positive and over 300 have died.
Mental Health Concerns
Veterans are at a higher risk of suicide with 20 veterans committing suicide every day. Despite serious mental health concerns among veterans, including depression and PTSD, outpatient mental health programs for veterans are virtual-only or closed. In March, the VA handled over 150,000 virtual mental health appointments, three times more than usual. It’s predicted the suicide rate among veterans will increase with these conditions.
Jail and Homelessness
More than 181,000 veterans are in jail or prison and it’s believed that 45,000 are homeless on any night. Many more receive court-supervised treatment for mental health and substance abuse. Over half of veterans who are involved with the justice system have a substance abuse or mental health disorder.
The incarcerated and homeless face a mostly silent fight of their own against the coronavirus. While long-term care facilities have become hotspots across the United States for COVID-19, so too have jails, prisons, and homeless shelters.