Since Veterans Affairs leaders reported the first death of a VA patient from coronavirus in mid-March, the number of positive cases — and fatalities — in the department’s health system has risen dramatically.
As of April 7, there have been 144 patients who have died from the illness. That number increased by 19 from the day before. On March 30, the total was less than 20.
VA officials have offered only partial details of the deaths, but until this weekend all of the fatalities had been among patients aged 50 or older. Officials from the New Orleans VA Medical Center, one of the hardest hit in the country by the illness, announced that a patient in his or her 40s died there on Sunday. No other information was given.
Across all VA sites, 3,038 patients in VA care have tested positive for the fast-spreading virus. That’s about 11 percent of all of the cases tested by the department, and has nearly tripled in the last 10 days.
Based on information released by department health officials, here are the VA medical centers currently dealing with coronavirus cases:
Officials also said any veteran with symptoms such as fever, cough or shortness of breath should contact their local VA facility before visiting to determine their next steps.
In a statement, department leaders have promised “an aggressive public health response to protect and care for veterans, their families, health care providers, and staff in the face of this emerging health risk.”
That includes work with the CDC and the possibility of accepting some non-veteran patients at VA medical centers to provide relief to overtaxed local health care systems.
On Sunday, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie announced during a White House briefing that he would open about 1,500 beds nationwide to communities in need of extra resources, despite the increasing coronavirus numbers within the VA health system.
“The 400,000 men and women of the Department of Veterans Affairs are in this fight.,” he said. “We are in the fight not only for the nine and a half million veterans who are part of our service, but we are in the fight for the people of the United States.”
VA officials have said that opening those areas to non-veteran patients will not hurt delivery of care to any veterans who need it.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.