Six months after the first confirmed cases in the United States, the coronavirus pandemic continues to reshape the daily lives of American veterans. Although the Veterans Administration is continuing to provide some crucial services during this time, the VA has also failed to control the spread of the virus in its long-term care facilities, leading to deadly outbreaks and widespread criticism.
The Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in Massachusetts has become the target of public outcry and multiple investigations after 76 veterans residing there died of coronavirus. More than 100 other veterans and employees at the facility have also tested positive for COVID-19. Investigators have revealed that VA employees knowingly crowded infected and healthy veterans into over-capacity rooms, while finding the superintendent of the home unqualified to run a long-term care facility.
The total lack of basic quarantine procedures at the Holyoke facility has attracted a great deal of attention, but many other VA homes have suffered outbreaks, too. At the William E. Christoffersen Veterans Home in Salt Lake, 12 veterans passed away while fighting the coronavirus, including William E. Christoffersen himself. In the last 100 days, more than 20,000 patients in the Veterans Health System have tested positive for COVID-19, and more than 1,500 have died.
Meanwhile, veterans and their families face a challenging new economic reality, with high levels of unemployment and widespread restrictions on normal life. This is likely to be a major strain on mental health and household budgets, according to a report on veterans and the pandemic from the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute. For its part, the VA has invested almost 40 million dollars to offer more remote “telehealth” services during this difficult time. However, not all veterans have high-speed internet connections or smartphones, limiting widespread access to remote care.