More than 10,000 Veterans Affairs patients have died from complications related to coronavirus in less than 11 months, another grim milestone in the ongoing global pandemic.
As of Wednesday morning, VA officials had reported 10,059 deaths among veterans and other patients being tracked by department medical officials.
The department’s first death was reported on March 18, 2020. Since then, VA has averaged about 30 deaths a day connected to the virus. However, more than 60 percent of the deaths — 6,059 — have come since Nov. 1.
In addition to the patient deaths, at least 128 VA employees have also died from virus-related issues. About half of those have come since Nov. 1. VA cemeteries have hosted about 6,000 burials related to coronavirus deaths since last spring.
In a statement, VA officials said the recent spike in coronavirus cases and deaths is connected to the nationwide surge in cases which began last fall. At least 485,000 Americans have died from problems related to the virus, and more than 27.5 million Americans have contracted the illness.
“The United States, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, has experienced three surges in COVID-19 cases over the past year,” said Alan Greilsamer, spokesman for the Veterans Health Administration. “The overall rate of deaths in veterans in VA care for COVID-19 has declined since the beginning of the pandemic.”
VA has seen a sharp decrease in active coronavirus cases among patients over the last month.
In mid-January, department officials reported nearly 21,000 active cases spread out over more than 140 medical centers around the country. On Wednesday, that number was down to 6,411, the lowest figure since early November.
The number of patients hospitalized with severe virus symptoms has dropped by more than half in the last month, with fewer than 800 as of Tuesday.
Department officials have already administered about 1.8 million vaccine doses in the last two months, and expect that number to grow to more than 14 million (7 million individuals receiving the two-dose regimen) in coming months.
Last week, officials announced they were being given an extra 200,000 doses by the Department of Health and Human Services to meet VA needs. The department typically gets about 125,000 doses each week, to be distributed to sites across the country.
President Joe Biden has said he is optimistic that federal and state officials will have enough vaccine doses available for every American adult by the end of July.
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.