The newly established Brave of Heart Fund provides financial and emotional support to the families of health care workers and volunteers who died from COVID-19. It benefits the families of passed doctors, nurses, technicians, orderlies, cafeteria workers, custodians and VA health care workers.

Front line health care teams and doctors are working hard to support those with COVID-19 every day and programs like this provide immense emotional and financial support for their families if they become ill and lose their lives due to COVID-19.

The Fund launched with initial contributions from the New York Life Foundation and Cigna Foundation. The New York Life Foundation provided a dollar-for-dollar match on the first $25 million in individual donations received, and Cigna has committed to provide behavioral and emotional health support to help these families cope with grief. The Fund provides monetary grants to the families – including spouses, domestic partners, children and parents – of eligible health care workers and volunteers who lose their lives battling COVID-19.

“The Brave of Heart Fund is our way to honor these heroes – supporting these individuals and their families with financial and emotional support and being there when we are needed most,” said Heather Nesle, president of the New York Life Foundation.

“I think New York Life Chairman and CEO Ted Mathas said it best,” Nesle continued. “’In tough times, true heroes are revealed. The heroes today are not only the courageous and selfless frontline healthcare workers and volunteers who, without hesitation and without question, have put themselves in harm’s way to help those who desperately need it, but also their families who are living with the anxiety and fear of what may happen to their loved ones in the days ahead.’”

The Fund provides eligible families with initial charitable grants of $15,000 that seek to provide peace of mind by covering their immediate expenses and getting health and wellness services to them quickly. Eligible families of fallen healthcare workers will also be able to receive up to an additional $60,000 to aid their recovery. Grants will be made subject to a determination of need at the discretion of E4E Relief, a subsidiary of the public charity Foundation For The Carolinas, working in partnership with New York Life and Cigna.

All contributions made to the Fund will go to providing monetary grants to the loved ones of eligible healthcare workers and volunteers who lose their lives battling COVID-19, including spouses, domestic partners, children and parents.

John Varkey, who recently lost his wife, Aleyamma John, a longtime Queens Hospital Center nurse, to COVID-19, said, “The generosity of the Brave of Heart Fund during what has been the toughest time of my life has made such a difference. I am so grateful to everyone who found it in the goodness of their hearts to think of the families of the heroes who gave the ultimate sacrifice caring for their fellow humans during these unprecedented times.”

As of early April, the Fund has processed nearly 649 applications from 39 states. While the geographic spread of applications mirrors the spread of the pandemic, our application density has begun to follow COVID-19 “hotspot markets.” 14% of awarded grants have been awarded to families where the grantee or the decedent has Veteran or active military status, or the decedent worked at a VA facility.

9% of the grantees self-identify as active military or retired

  • 12% decedent healthcare workers identified as active military or retired.
  • 5% decedent healthcare workers were employed at VA hospitals.

For more information, please visit, where individuals can start the grant process by verifying eligibility to apply for a Brave of Heart Fund grant. Additional bereavement resources can be found at

The sharing of any non-VA information does not constitute an endorsement of products and services on part of VA

Heather Nesle is the President of New York Life Foundation. 

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Published on Apr. 21, 2021

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