Nearly every COVID-19 death in the Veteran community and U.S. as a whole is entirely preventable through getting a vaccine, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said July 31 at the DAV National Convention in Tampa.
With COVID-19 cases rising with the Delta variant, McDonough said 99% of those dying from COVID-19 right now are unvaccinated.
“Almost every death from COVID from this day forward is entirely preventable,” he said.
The secretary emphasized the SAVE LIVES Act. All Veterans, their spouses and their caregivers can visit VA and receive a free vaccine. He encouraged Veterans to get the shot if they haven’t already.
“We’ve already lost thousands of Veterans to this deadly disease and now the Delta variant is causing an exponential increase in infections, hospitalizations and deaths once again,” McDonough said. “That’s why everyone needs to be vaccinated.”
VA recently mandated the COVID-19 vaccine for Title 38 VA health care employees. This includes physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, registered nurses, physician assistants, expanded-function dental auxiliaries and chiropractors. Anyone who works in Veterans Health Administration facilities, visits VHA facilities or provides direct care to those VA serves has eight weeks to get vaccinated.
“That’s the only way we can end this pandemic and return to a normal life,” he said.
Return to normal
While he said Americans want to return to normal, he emphasized that VA won’t necessarily go back to pre-pandemic ways.
“At VA, for example, we shouldn’t go back to the old way of doing things, because the work we’ve done to respond to the pandemic has forged us into a stronger, better department for our Veterans,” he said.
The secretary also said trust scores for the Veterans Health Administration rose to 90% in 2021. These scores represent a 5% increase since 2017. And he noted that telehealth and tele-appeals give Veterans added options, which won’t go away once the pandemic ends.
“So, as we look to the future, we’re not trying to build a VA that goes back to the old normal,” he said. “With your help, we’re going to continue to do better for our Vets. We’re going to continue to be better for our Vets.”
DAV helping Veterans
McDonough cited several examples of how DAV helps Veterans. For years, the benefits and health care that Veterans earned through their service were tied to annual government appropriations. Because of this, there were annual budget fights and government shutdowns.
McDonough also highlighted other organizational successes, like DAV’s Service Team, which stood up a national phone system when the pandemic hit. Because of DAV’s work, it helped Veterans and families file nearly 140,000 benefits claims in the last year. DAV established a COVID-19 Unemployment Relief Fund, providing $2 million dollars to Veterans in need. The organization’s volunteer drivers also logged almost 10 million hours, providing 243,000 rides to VA healthcare facilities.
Because DAV provides these rides, the secretary said Veterans like William Eserkaln can receive the care they need. Through DAV, Erserkaln receives rides that help ensure he arrives safely at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center.
“All of that work translates into the one statistic that matters most: lives saved and improved, by the work we do together,” the secretary said. “In the time when disabled Veterans like William needed us most, DAV and VA rose to the occasion – and we did it together.”
To learn about COVID-19 vaccines at VA, visit https://www.va.gov/health-care/covid-19-vaccine/.
Visit DAV’s website at https://www.dav.org/veterans/i-need-a-ride/ to learn about free rides to VA medical centers.