The Coronavirus, or COVID-19, outbreak is constantly changing, and the VA is working to keep patients and staff safe. COVID-19 is a highly contagious respiratory virus. It is a new virus, which is concerning as there are no vaccines or medications found to be effective treatments at this time. Many people who become infected will experience a mild case, and many may not have any symptoms at all. However, it is possible for the virus to cause severe illness that may require hospitalization.
What should veterans do if they think they have Coronavirus?
Veterans experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 are encouraged to call their local VA facility, or 844-698-2311 (press #3 to be connected). Veterans who feel they may have the virus should call before visiting VA facilities, urgent care centers, emergency rooms in their communities, or community providers. Symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
While it is possible for the virus to spread before symptoms appear, people are most contagious when they feel sick; for this reason, those who are experiencing any of the above symptoms should stay at home as much as possible, unless they need urgent medical care.
What is the VA doing to manage COVID-19?
The VA is encouraging all veterans to call their VA facility before coming in for care, including mental health appointments, surgical procedures, and previously scheduled medical visits. At this time, urgent and emergency procedures will continue as scheduled, but elective procedures will be cancelled or rescheduled. VA providers may change appointments to Video Visits if possible, and veterans can request telehealth appointments from their providers at the VA. Veterans can also use MyHealtheVet secure messaging to contact their health care providers to find out whether or not they should come in for scheduled appointments. Veterans who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms can let their provider know via secure messaging, and the provider can evaluate symptoms and provide direction on where to go for further care. The VA does have COVID-19 testing available to patients who meet specific criteria:
- Have symptoms of COVID-19
- Have had close contact within the past 14 days with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have traveled to an affected area within the past 14 days
The VA is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies to monitor the outbreak, and has administered over 1,500 COVID-19 tests throughout the country.
Patients and visitors to VA clinics, hospitals, and other health care facilities will be met at the entrance by a staff member. Staff will ask screening questions to anyone wishing to enter the facility, and will provide instructions on how to proceed based on the answers to those questions. Anyone visiting a VA facility should call prior to visiting, and veterans coming in for scheduled appointments should plan additional time for screening.
Many VA facilities around the United States have cancelled public events for the foreseeable future, and are asking visitors who are sick to not visit. Additionally, VA facilities are screening all patients, employees, and visitors for COVID-19 symptoms when they arrive at a facility.
The VA has also announced that its 134 community living centers, as well as 24 spinal cord injury and disorder centers, will not allow any outside visitors. Clinical staff are screened for COVID-19 each day before entering these facilities.
How can veterans get their medications?
Veterans who already get their prescriptions by mail will still be able to do so. Those who pick up their medication in person can use the online prescription refill and tracking tool to have their medications delivered. The VA recommends refilling medications online at least ten days before a prescription is due to run out.
How can the spread of COVID-19 be prevented?
There are several ways to prevent the spread of illness:
- Wash your hands: this is the most effective way to prevent infection, and to prevent the spread of most viruses including COVID-19; wash your hands with soap and water frequently, especially after coughing, sneezing, blowing your nose, and coming into contact with surfaces such as door handles; if soap is not available, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol is also effective.
- Practice good hygiene habits: cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) whenever you sneeze or cough, and wash your hands afterwards; avoid touching your nose, eyes and mouth as much as possible; frequently clean and disinfect surfaces that are used often like countertops, door handles, phones, and other frequently used objects; avoid coming into close contact with those who are sick, and get all recommended vaccines.
- Stay at home as much as possible: if you need to go out, stay at least six feet away from others. If you have any symptoms, stay at home.
The VA also recommends the following to veterans:
- Become familiar with how to use VA Video Connect, before any urgent health issues occur. The VA can assist veterans with using this resource.
- Get a flu shot.
There are multiple organizations that are working to help veterans throughout the COVID-19 outbreak. These include:
- VA ordered to Suspend Debt Collection: The President of the United States directed the Department of Veterans Affairs to suspend VA debt collection for veterans who owe money to the VA
- Fix to Protect GI Bill Benefits: President Trump signed emergency legislation allowing student veterans to continue to receive the same amount of GI Bill benefits despite courses going online.
- The Committee on Veterans’ Affairs: The Committee is asking any veterans who need assistance to send a message to Hvac.majority@Mail.house.gov, and to share any information they have on how the Committee can ensure the VA is responding adequately to COVID-19.
- Veterans Crisis Line: for veterans experiencing unanticipated stress due to COVID-19, the Veterans Crisis Line can be reached at 1-800-273-8255, option 1, or by texting 838255. The Veterans Crisis Line is available 24/7 and connects veterans in need with caring and qualified responders to provide mental health support.
- VA Telehealth App: this app allows veterans to meet with their provider by video, and share health data with their provider.
- DAV: The DAV is continuing to provide VA claims assistance virtually and by phone, as well as virtual job fairs for veterans.
Please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 website for frequently updated information on the pandemic.
Heather Maxey works at a non-profit that addresses military ineligibility. She is an Army spouse, and met her husband while working as a Health Educator at Fort Bragg.
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