COVID-19 Observer
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COVID-19 Observer

How a Vet Filled a Gap in the VA System Left by COVID

By Sam Alix

As COVID-19 ravaged the globe, leaving fear and death in its wake, U.S. veterans were impacted in unique ways.

Due to comorbidity — having two diagnosable ailments at the same time — COVID-19 added an additional burden to an already trauma-laden existence. As a result, veterans in housing facilities around the country were thrust into high-risk status.

Like nursing homes, veterans homes across the United States were at high risk for catastrophic results if COVID-19 infiltrated their facility. As a result, the Veterans Administration system took extreme precautionary measures to keep COVID-19 at bay while keeping veterans safe.

For instance, VA personnel were allowed to work from home and support veterans via telehealth, Zoom and other platforms in order to reduce COVID-19 spread to already vulnerable personnel. Only essential personnel were allowed inside VA facilities — and that meant a specific caregiver needed to be deemed essential to the wellness of a specific veteran. If veterans could be served via phone, it became the preferred method.

Photo courtesy of Sam Alix

As we move forward in 2021, veterans’ mental and physical health have become priority for CHAMP, the veteran service non-profit I co-founded to reduce suicide and increase wellness in veteran populations. Following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocol for COVID-19 treatment is mandatory if veteran organizations are going to positively impact our veterans and their families. Zoom and virtual groups have replaced in-person groups, like Creative Expressions Veteran Art Group, for example. The challenge that remains: rural veterans and veterans who require face-to-face support in order to remain well; to that veteran, face-to-face interaction is a lifeline and vital wellness tool. How do we pivot?

Since COVID-19 CDC protocol requires social distancing, staying home if not feeling well, wearing masks and washing hands often, small groups, preferably outside or in open spaces, can take place safely. The VA has begun to see veterans face-to-face after temperature checks, health survey and verbal confirmation that the veteran is feeling well.

In conclusion, to remain proactive, working with others to flatten the curve and positively impact the community of veterans, organizations must pivot, remain flexible, and instill hope in veterans and families we serve. This too shall pass! Let’s ALL work together as one in order to make COVID-19 a distant memory and a defeated foe. Not only for veterans and their families, but for all communities in America and around the world.

Sam Alix is an Air Force combat veteran who served in the Iraq War in 2007.

This originally appeared on COVID-19 Wall of Memories on Jan. 11, 2021.

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