Total coronavirus cases within the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system since the start of the pandemic in America topped 400,000 over the weekend amid another national surge in infections.
Sunday marked 656 days since the first COVID-19 case was found in a patient of the Veteran Health Administration. As of Sunday evening, at least 401,010 patients and staffers had confirmed cases, with 100,000 of those coming in the last four months alone.
At least 17,381 have died from coronavirus complications over the last 21 months, including 236 VA employees. That equates to about 26 veteran deaths a day connected to the virus since the start of March 2020 in the VA health care system alone.
Active cases of the virus among patients rose sharply this summer and again in recent weeks.
About 10,000 cases are currently being tracked across 139 VA medical centers around the country. That number had been as low as 6,000 cases in early October and 1,400 cases in late June.
Initial vaccination rates have also continued to slow down in recent months. VA officials vaccinated about 3 million individuals between early February and the end of June but only about 1.1 million individuals since then.
The VA medical system does not serve every veteran in America, and many veterans who are eligible may still receive health care from both the federal system and private-sector clinics. As such, VA’s pandemic stats do not fully encompass the impact of the virus on all veterans in America.
But VA runs the largest single health care system in the country, and the challenges posed by the large number of cases among VA hospitals echoes the pressures on the entire American medical community.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that more than 50.6 million Americans — about one in every seven U.S. citizens — has contracted COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. Last week, White House officials commemorated the 800,000th American death linked to the virus in the past 22 months.
Veterans medical facilities have worked to resume pre-pandemic operations in recent months, with fewer restrictions on visitors and resumption of nonemergency procedures at most locations.
Department leaders have required all employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, a move that VA Secretary Denis McDonough has said is meant to ensure the safety and confidence of patients in using the health care system.
McDonough has also said he has not considered requiring all VA patients to be vaccinated in order to use department medical facilities.
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.