One year ago today, Veterans Affairs officials announced their first patient to contract COVID-19, a Northern California veteran tested positive after being admitted to the department’s Palo Alto medical center.
Since then, the virus has infected more than 230,000 VA patients and staffers and played a role in the deaths of more than 10,700 of them. It forced the temporary closure of nearly every veterans benefits centers and cemeteries across the country, and necessitated major operations changes at every medical facility.
In an interview with Military Times this week, acting VA Under Secretary for Health Richard Stone said department officials are encouraged with progress on virus response in recent weeks.
The number of active cases among all VA medical centers as of Wednesday night was about 5,500, down 74 percent in the last 40 days. Deaths have slowed considerably in recent weeks, after topping more than 2,400 in January alone.
But Stone also warned that the long-term effects of the pandemic will be felt “for years,” in department costs, delayed medical care and emotional trauma.
Here’s a look at VA’s coronavirus response and the impact of the illness over the last 12 months, by the numbers:
* 230,193: The total positive coronavirus cases among staff and patients recorded by VA since March 4, 2020. Of those, about 93 percent have recovered from the illness.
* 10,597: Total deaths connected to the virus among VA patients. That equates to about 29 deaths a day over the length of the pandemic.
* 131: The number of VA employees who have died from the virus.
* 2.8 million: Total of coronavirus tests conducted by VA employees in the last year. That’s less than half of the 7 million veterans who regularly use VA for medical care.
* 129: The number of consecutive days (since Oct. 25, 2020) with at least 5,000 active cases across the country’s VA medical centers.
* 2.6 million: The number of coronavirus vaccines administered by VA staffers since mid-December.
* 1,357 percent: VA’s reported increase in telehealth and remote health care appointments since March 2020.
* 19 million: The estimated total lost veterans medical appointments — delayed, deferred or cancelled — in the Veterans Health Administration since the start of the pandemic.
* $15 billion: The amount of emergency funds for VA included in the latest coronavirus relief package under consideration, money that VA says is needed to offset continued costs of the pandemic.
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.