WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — There are more than nine million veterans throughout the country, and hundreds have been tested for the coronavirus so far.
But the first veteran to die from the coronavirus in Oregon has raised some worries.
“For veterans, we are the ultimate place for them to go,” Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said.
But those without emergency needs from the Department of Veterans Affairs — and even visitors — are going to have to stay away from VA facilities to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“We have moved into a full disease mitigation effort,” Wilkie said.
Wilkie says the VA is postponing dental appointments, elective surgery, doctor visits and more.
“If they have a loved one inside one of our community living centers, they’re probably not going to be able to see that loved one,” Wilkie said.
Wilkie says even younger veterans with the virus should stay away.
“It’s safer for them to be at home. The older veterans are the ones that we are bringing into the system,” Wilkie said.
Wilkie has requested $16 billion from Congress to increase telehealth services, upgrade the VA’s computer systems, and expand VA facilities for those affected by the virus.
“It’s absolutely essential that we have the capacity to take care of our veterans,” Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey said.
Toomey agrees lawmakers need to act, and Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner says one veteran has died of the virus in Oregon. Lawmakers and the VA need to work quickly.
“I have sent a letter to Secretary Wilkie making sure that we ramp up our protections of veterans, making sure that we have the funding necessary through the VA system and the practices in place to address coronavirus,” Gardner said.
Wilkie says veterans should call their local VA facility to learn about the new rules and restrictions.