Pandemic advice for military veterans
A veteran shares how community members can seek support
While COVID-19 continues to affect many communities in Washington, some groups have been disproportionately impacted by the physical, emotional, and mental health toll of the pandemic. One of those groups is military veterans.
We spoke with U.S. Army veteran Paul Fuller, now a full-time STAT (critical care) nurse at Central Washington Hospitals and Clinics in Wenatchee, about some of the unique challenges veterans are facing during the pandemic. In the Army, Paul trained as a medic and traveled with troops for 14 months while stationed in Iraq. He later earned a nursing degree from the University of Washington and worked as both an emergency room (ER) and intensive care unit (ICU) nurse before becoming a STAT nurse.
Paul has firsthand experience in rebuilding a life after military service — and is working to help other veterans and service members in his community do the same.
How has the pandemic affected veterans?
There’s going to be a difference in how veterans of different ages and generations are handling these times. For example, Vietnam veterans are going to be more directly affected in a physical way because of pre-existing conditions and their age. However, the harmful effects of isolation are the same for all age groups, and isolation has greatly increased during the pandemic.
Are veterans more vulnerable to increased mental health struggles during the pandemic?
Definitely. One of the main issues is that it’s hard to get in-person appointments for treatment. Sure, phone and video appointments are an option, but nothing compares to in-person interactions.
Do you think an interruption in health care due to the pandemic will cause veterans to stop care altogether?
I think it depends on how a person responds to trauma. People usually either withdraw or reach out and it’s really hard to reach someone who has withdrawn. I just hope those individuals can lean on fellow veterans or others for support right now.
Have suicide rates among veterans increased due to the pandemic?
A few soldiers I know have died by suicide in the past year. I don’t know the details, so I can’t say it’s directly related to COVID-19, but I was not hearing about deaths like this before COVID-19. I think isolation due to the pandemic has increased suicide rates in my community. That’s why it’s so important for veterans to seek support. If you are struggling at any point, and need fast support, contact the Veterans Crisis Line. This line connects veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat, or text.
Veterans and their loved ones can call 1–800–273–8255 and press 1; chat online; or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
How can veterans find other support?
Veterans who are more internet inclined can easily find veterans’ groups and support centers through a quick Google search. They can also find resources through Veterans Affairs, Department of Health and Human Services, and Department of Defense — they all have so much to offer. These sites also have numbers that veterans can call to get linked to someone who can guide them to local, in-person resources.
Getting connected to a local community of veterans is definitely the best scenario for long-lasting support.
Are there coping mechanisms veterans can use at home if they’re struggling?
It’s about finding what works best for you. The VA has compiled some resources for coping during the pandemic. The Washington State Department of Health also has a list of mental health resources for anyone living in Washington.
It is well documented that the COVID-19 vaccine can be effective in preventing COVID-19. Why might there still be vaccine hesitancy among veterans?
I think it’s the same as the reasons some veterans are hesitant with anything involving the government. We have been a part of the bureaucracy and understand how frustrating it can be, and many veterans have some level of distrust in the government.
Also, a lot of veterans are young and fit and don’t consider themselves in the high-risk category. So they may not think they need the vaccine. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. You have no way of knowing how your body will react to the illness.
My hope is that veterans continue to listen to health care professionals and realize that the risk of getting COVID-19 is much higher than the risk of vaccine side effects.
What would you say to a veteran who’s hesitant about getting the vaccine?
I would remind them of the reasons they signed up for the military in the first place: we love our country and the people in it. And we want to maintain and protect our lifestyle and freedom for ourselves and future generations.
If we really care about our country, the best thing we can do is get the vaccine to help protect the people in our communities. The vaccine is body armor for the virus — it protects you and those around you.
This blog is accurate as of the date of posting. Information changes rapidly, so check the state’s COVID-19 website for the most up-to-date info at coronavirus.wa.gov. You can also sign up to be notified whenever we post new articles.
The COVID-19 vaccine is now available to everyone 5 and older. For more information about the vaccine, visit CovidVaccineWA.org and use the vaccine locator tool to find an appointment. The COVID-19 vaccine is provided at no cost to you.
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Answers to your questions or concerns about COVID-19 in Washington State may be found at our website. You can also contact the Department of Health call center at 1–800–525–0127 and press # from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday — Sunday and observed state holidays. Language assistance is available.