Veterans hit hard by the pandemic and its fallout


Navy veteran Faron Smith Jr. reacts while receiving a COVID-19 vaccination at a Veterans Administration pop-up vaccination site on April 17, 2021, in Gardena, California.
Patrick T. Fallon / AFP via Getty Images)

Jamie Rowen, University of Massachusetts Amherst

As the nation takes a day to honor veterans, they are facing a deadly risk that has nothing to do with war or conflict: the coronavirus.

Different groups and communities have faced varying degrees of danger from the pandemic, exemplified by the humanitarian disaster in India and the inequalities in US health outcomes, vaccine distribution problems, and outright rejection of vaccines. Veterans were among the hardest hit, with the greatest health and economic threats due to the pandemic. These veterans face homelessness, lack of health care, delays in receiving financial support, and even death.

I have spent the past six years studying veterans with substance use and mental disorders who are in the criminal justice system. This work revealed gaps in health care and financial support for veterans,
even if they have the better financed with public funds benefits in the country.

Here are eight ways the pandemic continues to threaten veterans.

1. Age and other vulnerabilities

73% of veterans are over 50 and 89% are male.

The largest group served in the Gulf era, they were exposed to dust storms, oil fires and burnt pits with numerous toxins, and possibly consequently have high rates of asthma and other respiratory diseases.

The second largest group served in the Vietnam era, in which 2.8 million veterans were exposed to Agent Orange, a chemical defoliant linked to cancer.

Age and respiratory disease are both risk factors for COVID-19 mortality. As of May 13, 2021, 258,078 people under the care of the Veterans Administration have been diagnosed with COVID-19, of which 11,941 have died.

Reluctance to get vaccinated continues to hinder comprehensive vaccination efforts, particularly in rural areas. The Veterans Administration has set successful vaccine distribution sites they now administer to veterans, their spouses, caregivers and others who receive VA health care. About 2.5 million of the 19 million veterans have been vaccinated through the agency.

But the demand is dropping from 75,000 appointments a day to 30,000, and President Joe Biden recently made the decision do not send vaccinations in the armed forces, where vaccine rates stay low.

An employee of a VA hospital in Brooklyn who stands outside the building during a staff protest for additional personal protective equipment and assistance during the pandemic.
VA Hospital employee Wayne Malone joins staff outside Brooklyn Veterans Administration Medical Center on Monday, April 6, 2020, in New York, where he has called for more personal protective equipment and staff assistance to care for COVID-19 patients .
AP Photo / Kathy Willens

2. Benefits unfairly denied or delayed

When a person passes from active military service to become a veteran, they receive a Certificate of discharge or release. This certificate provides information on the circumstances of the discharge or release. Includes characterizations such as “honorable”, “other than honorable”, “misconduct” or “dishonorable”. These are crucial distinctions for that status determines whether the veterans administration will benefit them.

Research shows that some veterans with resignations that limit their benefits have symptoms of post-traumatic stress, military sexual trauma, or other behavior related to military stress. Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have disproportionately more of these negative discharges that veterans of other eras.

Veterans administration often and perhaps illegitimately denies benefits to veterans with “not honorable” leave.

Many veterans have requested updates to their discharge status. There’s a significant backlog of these update requests, and the pandemic has added to it, further delaying access to health care and other benefits.

3. Decreased access to health care

Dental surgeries, routine visits, and elective surgeries at Veterans Administration medical centers have been postponed as people await the full reopening of offices. Veterans Administration hospitals are notoriously understaffed – Shortly before the pandemic, the agency reported 43,000 vacancies out of more than 400,000 healthcare staff posts.

The pandemic has added to these problems. To the Inspector General relationship since fall 2020 found that 95% of Veterans Administration health centers lack a key staff member, most commonly medical service providers such as psychiatrists, general practitioners and nurses, but also custodial staff needed to keep facilities clean and sanitary.

4. Mental health can deteriorate

An average of 20 veterans die from suicide each day. A. national task force is currently facing this scourge.

The effects of the pandemic on veterans’ mental health are still unclear. The VA continues to encourage digital treatment of mental health as studio visits remain limited. Calls to the suicide hotline by veterans have increased by 12% on March 22, 2020, a few weeks after the start of the crisis. Recent information from the Department of Defense suggests that already troubling suicide rates have not changed, with black and Hispanic veterans at the highest risk.

5. Complications for homeless veterans and those in the justice system

The latest data available, before the pandemic, documented 107,400 veterans in state or federal prisons, e 181,500 were jailed if we also include prisons. While many facilities have responded to the pandemic by releasing eligible veterans, there is one revolving door between time served and homeless.

After years of falling homeless rates, there has been one 0.5% increase homeless from 2019 to 2020. Before the pandemic, in January 2020, an estimate 37,252 veterans they were homeless every night.

Thousands of other veterans are under court scrutiny for substance use and mental health treatment in courts for the treatment of veterans. More than half of veterans involved in the justice system have mental health problems or substance use disorders.

Courts quickly moved online after the arrests of the state, and many continue in this new mode. While often helpful in meeting the court’s obligations of treatment, administering justice online can be a hindrance for people seeking the camaraderie that comes from meeting in person. Other challenges they are about access to technology and due process.

A homeless Navy veteran in Los Angeles, on a sidewalk with a blanket and some belongings.
Because veteran facilities are close to new entrants, many veterans eligible to leave jail or jail have nowhere to go and can become homeless, like this Navy veteran in Los Angeles.
Mario Tama / Getty Images

6. Delayed disability allowance

The closures of the Veterans Administration offices have exacerbated the longstanding backlog of requests for disability, which more than doubled during the pandemic. Approximately 200,000 veterans wait more than 125 days for a decision. Anything less than 125 days is not considered a delay in claims for benefits.

There is a long delay for medical examinations to determine disability benefits. As of March 2021, there was a backlog of 357,000 medical examinations, almost three times the backlog compared to February 2020.

The closure of the National Personnel Registry, which houses the physical documents frequently requested to obtain the benefits, led to an estimate backlog from 18 to 24 months of 499,000 requests for documents. These documents are often required to receive medical benefits and military honors in the event of death.

7. Dangerous residential structures

Veterans in need of end-of-life care, those with cognitive disabilities, or those in need of treatment for substance use often live in crowded Veterans Administration or state-funded residential facilities.

State-funded “soldiers’ houses” are notoriously hungry for money and personnel. The horrible situation at the soldiers’ home in Holyoke, Massachusetts, where 76 veteran residents have died from a COVID-19 outbreak, bringing to criminal charges, and the death of 46 veterans in an Alabama facility illustrate the risk residential veterans faced at the start of the pandemic.

8. Economic catastrophe

there are 1.2 million veteran employees in the five most severely affected sectors – mining, oil and gas extraction; transport and storage; Employment office; travel arrangements; leisure and hospitality – from the economic fallout of the coronavirus. Unemployment of veterans was at 3.5% before the pandemic and has risen to 6.4% by September 2020.

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A disproportionately large number of post-9/11 veterans live in some of the hardest-hit communities that depend on these industries and even had higher rates unemployment compared to their non-veteran peers and other veteran cohorts. Many veterans can face evictions when the national team moratorium on evictions of elevators on June 30, 2021.

Military spouses they are suffering from the economic fallout, as are the children affected by the closure of schools.

With veterans, many of the problems they face now existed long before the coronavirus hit the shores of the United States.

But with the problems posed by today’s situation, veterans who did not already have adequate benefits and resources are now in deeper trouble and it will be more difficult to meet their needs.

Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of a story which originally took place on April 16, 2020.

The conversation

Jamie Rowen, Associate Professor of Legal Studies and Political Science, University of Massachusetts Amherst

This article is republished by The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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