Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Denounce VA’s COVID Response

January 6, 2021 by Reece Nations
U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs. (Photo by Dan McCue)

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America CEO Jeremy Butler issued a statement Tuesday condemning Department of Veterans Affairs officials in response to the administration’s handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Butler’s statement was released in response to a MilitaryTimes report revealing the VA’s death totals due to COVID-19 have now surpassed those of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. Officials reported 6,929 known cumulative deaths among COVID-19 patients who have been tested or treated at VA facilities as of Jan. 5, according to the VA coronavirus report dashboard

In comparison, the Department of Defense records indicate 6,756 military casualties during Operation Enduring Freedom from 2001 to 2014 and Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2003 to 2010, according to the Military Times.

“The VA’s continued lack of leadership and proactive communication to the national veteran community as the COVID-19 pandemic only worsens is both shocking and representative of this administration’s lackluster approach to the crisis,” Butler’s statement on behalf of IAVA read. “This is obviously a national crisis and one that extends far beyond the veteran community.” 

The statement continued, “But the effects on America’s veterans are emblematic of the deteriorating situation and also indicative of where a well-led Department of Veterans Affairs could be contributing to the national recovery. Those hardest hit by the pandemic are elderly, those in nursing homes, those with co-morbidities and minorities – all demographics that are widely represented by the nation’s veteran community.” 

In total, casualties from coronavirus have amounted to 23 deaths a day among veterans since the first month of the pandemic, according to the Military Times. Deaths from coronavirus among veterans have overtaken deaths from suicide, which equate to roughly 17 deaths a day among the United States’ veteran population. 

Around 60% of VA coronavirus patient deaths occurred in other medical centers not connected to the VA health system or while being taken care of at home, according to the report. CDC estimates indicate 352,464 U.S. citizens have died from coronavirus nationwide as of Jan. 5. 

The VA is the country’s largest integrated health system with more than 9 million enrolled veterans and over 6 million veterans annually receiving health care, according to the VA website. Officials also announced the administering of coronavirus vaccines to over 50,000 health care employees and over 5,000 veterans in community living centers as of last week. 

“With 170 VA Medical Centers and more than a thousand health care facilities of various sizes across the country, VA is in a uniquely powerful position to be a leader in meeting the challenges of this pandemic and providing Americans with the support it needs,” Butler’s statement continued. “But that requires putting the country first, rejecting junk science, and providing honest, clear guidance to the public.” 

The statement continued, “IAVA looks forward to working directly with the VA and President-Elect Biden’s administration as they prioritize addressing the pandemic and providing our veterans with the services they earned through their service to our country.” 

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