More than 6,500 Veterans Affairs patients died from coronavirus complications this year and more than 151,000 were infected as part of the global pandemic, according to data released by the department.
Most of those cases came in the fall of 2020, as coronavirus numbers spiked throughout much of the U.S. Although the pandemic began in March, half of the VA deaths and nearly two-thirds of the total VA infections were reported in the last 100 days of the year.
The 6,560 total deaths equate to roughly 22 a day since the start of the pandemic, making coronavirus more deadly than the roughly 17 veterans a day lost to suicide.
Of that total, about 40 percent were inpatients at VA medical facilities at the time of death. The others were individuals being cared for outside of VA hospitals but connected to department medical services
The VA also reported 4,514 coronavirus-related burials this year.
In addition to patient totals, at least 91 VA employees have died from coronavirus complications. VA officials have declined to say how many of those VA workers who died had direct contact with medical center patients or other veterans.
Nationally, more than 337,000 Americans have died from health conditions linked to the virus.
As of Tuesday, VA officials reported 11,082 active virus cases among patients connected to 138 sites across the country. That’s down almost 30 percent in the past month, but more than three times higher than the level on Sept. 1.
VA leaders have downplayed spikes in coronavirus deaths and cases in recent months, saying that percentages of veterans who need hospitalization because of coronavirus complications has remained consistent or decreased as total cases have risen.
The number of VA inpatients at medical facilities across the country rose to 1,380 this week, the highest reported level since the start of the pandemic.
Nationally, more than 19.4 million Americans have contracted the virus in the past nine months.
The department has administered about 1.15 million coronavirus tests in the past nine months as part of its screening for the illness.
On Tuesday, VA officials reported that in the past two weeks more than 5,000 veterans residing in Community Living Centers and more than 50,000 health care employees have been administered COVID-19 vaccine doses.
“As vaccines become more widely available, we will continue to implement our plan to offer them to any veteran or employee who wants one at no cost,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement.
The department has identified at least 155 sites across the country where veterans and employees will be able to receive the vaccine. But it also has warned that it may take months to meet the demand, which is expected to surpass more than 7 million individuals.
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.