The coronavirus pandemic has been deadlier for American veterans than the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars combined.
On Monday morning, Department of Veterans Affairs officials reported 6,772 patient deaths died from complications related to the virus in the last 10 months. Defense Department officials list 6,756 military casualties in Operation Iraqi Freedom (which lasted more than seven years, from 2003 to 2010) and Operation Enduring Freedom (which lasted from 2001 to 2014).
Nationwide, more than 350,000 Americans have died from virus-related issues since last March.
VA’s death total does not include another 95 employees who have contracted coronavirus and died in recent months. Department officials have declined to release information on their jobs and contact with patients and visitors to VA medical facilities.
The department death total reflects many of the 9 million veterans connected to VA health services, but not all veterans in America. It is roughly equal to 23 deaths a day since the first month of the pandemic, making it even more of a threat to the veteran population than suicide (roughly 17 deaths a day among all U.S. veterans).
About 40 percent of the VA coronavirus deaths have occurred among department inpatients. The others are veterans being cared for at home or in other medical centers but still connected to the VA health system.
As of Sunday night, the department reported 11,545 active cases among patients across the department’s medical sites nationwide. That’s down 28 percent in the last 30 days, but more than triple the level reported on Sept. 1 (3,302 active cases).
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 have remained consistent or decreased as total cases have risen.
The number of VA inpatients at medical facilities across the country rose to 1,380 last week, the highest reported level since the start of the pandemic. Nationally, more than 20.3 million Americans have contracted the virus in the past 10 months.
VA officials announced last week that they had administered coronavirus vaccines to more than 5,000 veterans residing in Community Living Centers and more than 50,000 health care employees.
The department expects to deliver vaccines to more than 7 million individuals in coming months, but has warned that process will be dependent on vaccine availability and other logistical issues.
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.