Members from VFW Post 5867 in Lakeside, Calif., and VFW Post 3787’s Auxiliary in San Diego have taken donating their time during the pandemic a step further May 07, 2020 VFW Post members around the world have been donating their time and effort to make masks for their community members across the world. Members from VFW Post 5867 in Lakeside, Calif., and Auxiliary members of Post 3787 in San Diego make face masks in April for sailors aboard the USS O’Kane (DDG-77) stationed in San Diego, Calif. The VFW members made a total of 57 masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Paula Jansen. However, members from VFW Post 5867 in Lakeside, Calif., and VFW Post 3787’s Auxiliary in San Diego have taken it a step further. These VFW and Auxiliary members made masks for active-duty sailors in the area. Some 30 masks were made for sailors aboard the USS O’Kane (DDG-77). In total, Post and Auxiliary members made 57 face masks in early April to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the spring 2020 pandemic. By Dave Spiva/VFW magazine
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today that it has expanded support services enabled by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, to make available immediate relief for Veterans experiencing or at risk of homelessness during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The CARES Act allocates $17.2 billion for the Veterans Health Administration, $300 million of which will be used this fiscal year to address the challenges faced by homeless and at-risk Veterans. “A significant percentage of homeless Veterans or those at risk of homelessness are uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19 due to their living conditions, age and chronic health complications,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “The funds from the CARES Act are vital and will allow VA to continue working diligently to prevent the spread of infection in communities and keep Veterans safe and on the pathway to permanent housing during this perilous time.” Funding is provided for three critical VA programs to assist with the emergency response needed for Veterans living without safe, stable housing. Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program - $202 million has been allocated to provide emergency housing and homelessness prevention assistance to very low-income Veteran families to mitigate the expected wave of evictions and potential homelessness that will result from extensive unemployment. Funds for this program will also assist the Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing program in placing Veterans in safe housing to isolate them from the virus. Grant and Per Diem (GPD) Program - Grants from the GPD program usually consist of a capped per diem payment from VA to community organizations to provide transitional housing and supportive services to Veterans. $88 million has been allocated to this program, which allows VA to waive per diem limits during the crisis and help GPD grantees to provide all needed emergency housing and supportive services, including emergency placement for Veterans who need to be isolated for their safety or the safety of others. Health Care for Homeless Veterans Program - $10 million has been allocated to provide emergency shelter and supportive services during the crisis, including placement in hotel rooms for Veterans needing emergency shelter or isolation to avoid spreading the virus. Housing will be paired with care, treatment and rehabilitative services. Learn more about how VA is working to protect Veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic and VA’s homeless programs.
(VAntage Point) More than 120 health care providers from the VA New England Healthcare System have deployed to New York City and the greater Boston area. The deployment supports VA’s response to the northeast’s COVID-19 outbreak. In the photo above, Matt Hamel of VA Maine Healthcare System boards a plane for a flight from Portland, Maine, to New York City. There, he’ll begin a 14-day deployment to support VA COVID-19 response operations. “They have left their friends and family here in New England to support colleagues in New York and bolster our COVID-19 teams at VA medical centers in Boston and Bedford,” said Ryan Lilly, the VA New England director. “Their dedication, courage, commitment and selflessness deserve our deepest admiration and gratitude. Their service to our nation’s Veterans is saving lives and making a difference. We are proud of each of them.” Since April 5, teams from VA New England have included full-time VA New England doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, medical support assistants and housekeeping staff. More than 40 were sent to support the VA New York/New Jersey Healthcare Network. They’ve been attached to COVID-19 response units at the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan campuses. A rotation of VA New England volunteers has left each week to resupply VA’s New York City response with much needed clinical and operational support. Several signed up for a second 14-day shift. 60 staff members to Boston On Sunday, more staff flew on a Department of Defense jet from the Portland International Jetport in Portland, Maine, to New York. VA New England is also reinforcing the response teams within its network; demand in the Boston area is also high. In the past few weeks, teams of more than 60 staff members from VA New England’s medical centers in Vermont, Maine and Central Western Massachusetts were sent to VA Boston and the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, Mass. All are volunteers as part of the Veteran Health Administration’s Disaster Emergency Medical Personnel System (DEMPS). DEMPS is the VHA’s main deployment program for VA’s workforce to assist in a federal emergency or disaster zone under a Presidential Disaster Declaration. Sunday’s flight On Sunday’s flight were a nurse practitioner, an emergency department nurse, a medical support assistant and a housekeeping aide. A fifth person, a primary care physician, drove to New York April 24. The four VA Maine employees boarded a jet with “United States of America” written across its body and an American flag affixed to its tail. Before boarding, military personnel checked their temperatures. One of them was Matt Hamel, a housekeeping aide who served eight years in the U.S. Army. His service included a deployment to Iraq and two deployments to Afghanistan. Hamel works in Environmental Management Services at the VA Maine Healthcare System in Augusta, Maine. His duty in New York will include cleaning and sanitizing the COVID-19 area at the James J. Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx. “I’m a Veteran. For me, it’s a call to duty,” said Hamel, who lives in Chelsea, Maine. “It’s just another deployment for me. There’s just something inside, a driving force, that says, ‘Go help.’” 24/7 around-the-clock, 12-hour on-and-off shifts Other volunteers from New England have also mentioned the importance of serving their country and answering the call for help. Mark Zacheis is a registered nurse from the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital. He went to New York for a 14-day deployment. He plans to help his colleagues when he returns to the VA medical center in Bedford. Zacheis said his time in New York was intense. Now, he will use the knowledge he gained and his experience to help save lives in Massachusetts. The Army Veteran said operations have been 24/7 with around-the-clock with 12-hour on-and-off shifts. He said it was, “eat, shower, bed and then do it all over again.” Zacheis said spirits are high, despite the situation’s intensity. He said it was especially uplifting to hear New Yorkers at 7 p.m. each day cheering from windows and banging on pots and pans to show their appreciation for the health care workers. “We’re just doing our best,” he said during his first week in New York. “We’ve seen a lot of teamwork. There’s a lot of communication.” He also noted they were provided donated meals and other items provided to help them settle in. Bridget Fisher, a nurse practitioner from China, Maine, has her identification checked before boarding a DoD aircraft for a flight to New York to begin COVID-19 response operations at VA medical centers in New York City. “Not volunteering was not an option” Several of the VA New England staff said the DEMPS mission is an opportunity to contribute their VA clinical expertise at a critical time and at the epicenter of the coronavirus – New York City. “As I watch the news every day and see my health care colleagues across the country caring for these very sick patients, I know I have the clinical expertise to contribute to this unprecedented pandemic,” said Margaret “Peg” Sullivan, a nurse practitioner from the White River Junction VA Healthcare System in Vermont. “Simply, this is what I do. Not volunteering was simply not an option.” Sullivan said everyone is “working long, difficult hours.” Both the New York and New England providers work side-by-side and are taking every precaution. “It is an honor to serve during this pandemic,” she said. “We are not heroes. We are simply committed clinicians doing what needs to be done. We’re supporting our colleagues and patients.” Her colleague, Lisa D. Romero, agreed. Romero is nurse manager of the Community-Based Outpatient Clinic in Bangor, Maine. “This is a chance to give back to those Veterans who fought for the freedoms that allow me to practice as a nurse today,” said Romero. “To serve our Veterans is an honor” Volunteering to help fellow VA staff at the Brooklyn VA is “being there for those who are in need,” said Carolyn L. Stevens. Stevens is a VA licensed practical nurse from Lincoln, Maine, and a U.S. Army Medical Corps Veteran. “To serve our country is a privilege. To serve our Veterans is an honor,” said Tim Chilson, a Veteran of the U.S. Navy and of the Army National Guard and Air National Guard from Florence, Mass. He has also deployed several times when on active-duty with several military deployments. Chilson is a registered nurse with the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System. Vermont and Maine also helping Several staff from Vermont and Maine are now helping in Boston and the nearby VA Bedford campus. The Bedford campus is now caring for Veterans from the state Veterans’ home in Chelsea, a Boston suburb. Tina Kebalka is a registered nurse at VA New England’s White River Junction VA Healthcare System in Vermont. She left her home earlier in April. Now she’s at the VA Boston Healthcare System Intensive Care Unit, caring for Veterans with COVID-19. “As I was packing up my car this morning, I couldn’t help but think of all the Veterans that I have met and taken care of in my 10 years here at White River Junction VA,” Kebalka wrote in a blog. She uses the blog to share her observations with friends and fellow VA employees. “I was thinking about how they must have been feeling on the morning of their first deployment into World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Iran, or leaving for basic training, or any other mission that required leaving their home. I am inspired, determined and excited to use my skills toward this worldwide crisis.” Implementing contingency plans VHA has 18 Veterans Integrated Service Networks. The Manhattan VA campus and the Brooklyn VA Medical Center are within VISN 2. VISN 2 comprises VA medical centers in New York and New Jersey. Lilly noted that his network has kept a close eye on the spread of the virus into New England. VA New England had already built contingency plans for VA providers within New England to support the expected Boston surge. Support of COVID-19 units will be critical in VISN 1 for the foreseeable future, he said. In messages to employees, he has encouraged VA New England staff to volunteer. There’s a need “We need nurses, physicians and other clinical staff and likely other professionals from a wide range of service lines. They’re needed not just in other regions of our nation, but right here in New England, too,” Lilly said. Lilly also appealed to employees to share the need for health care professionals with retired VA providers. “They can make an immediate difference right now, today, close to home here in New England,” said Lilly. Any provider interested in returning to the Veterans Health Administration to help VA medical centers in New England can send a note to human resources at VHAV01NewEnglandHiring@va.gov. Sunday, Lilly was there to tell his staff heading to New York how proud he is. He said their service was an inspiration to everyone. “It takes a tremendous service, tremendous self-sacrifice and a willingness to serve your fellow man,” Lilly said.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and its participating medical centers across the country kicked-off blood drives in late April — partnering with the American Red Cross and community organizations — in response to the ongoing national need for blood during the coronavirus disease 2019 public health emergency. Healthy individuals are encouraged to participate in the ongoing Share Your Health, Roll Up Your Sleeve Today blood drives hosted by VA medical centers and staffed by the Red Cross or other local blood collection centers. “As a leader in health care, VA has an obligation to step forward to offer this support to our nation,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilke. “This is an important opportunity for citizens nationwide to support their communities.” By leveraging VA’s resources to ensure vital blood and blood products are available for patients, VA is exercising its “Fourth Mission” to provide back-up health services to the nation in times of disaster. Those wishing to donate blood can visit Red Cross Blood to schedule an appointment. In some areas, VA works with other regional blood collection centers to host blood drives. VA hosted blood drives are scheduled on a rolling basis. Check the Red Cross or VA medical center websites for specific dates. Federal guidance states blood donors are exempt from “stay at home” orders to participate in this lifesaving activity. VA and the American Red Cross have also adopted additional precautions including requiring masks and social distancing measures at all blood drives to ensure the safety of donors and staff.
Four current veterans — one of the Vietnam War and three who served in Iraq — explain how writing their experiences down has helped them come to terms with what they lived through In late March 2003, while standing outside Nasiriyah, Iraq, former Marine Sgt. Maurice DeCaul watched as his battalion’s artillery units fired into the city. Former Marine Sgt. Maurice DeCaul says writing and sharing poetry with other veterans at an NYU workshop in 2009 allowed a “catharsis” to happen. He said poetry gave him a chance to express thoughts he was unable to communicate through other means. Photo courtesy of Maurice DeCaul. “On the outskirts of the city of Nasiriyah, on our right and left flanks, you had Marine battalions bombarding the city,” he said. “Hearing the guns going off and then seeing the effect —that’s just something I’ve been thinking about for a very long time.” DeCaul, who joined the Marines in 1997 and deployed to Iraq at the start of the war in 2003, recalled this moment specifically as something that stayed in his memory long after coming home. “It was a pretty long barrage and it was pretty devastating,” he said. “Just trying to express that, grapple with what I knew was happening on the other side.” It wasn’t until six years later that he turned to poetry to analyze his experience in the war. Like many who have served, post9/11 veterans have turned to poetry as a medium to document, interrogate and understand their war experiences. In the 20th century, particularly, American soldiers have produced some of the starkest and resonant poetry on war. In “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner,” WWII Army Sgt. Randall Jarrell wrote about life as an airman. “Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life, / I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.” Other WWII military veterans — such as James Dickey, Karl Shapiro and Richard Hugo — also wrote of the war in the Pacific and European theaters. Richard Wilbur, who served in the Army between 1943-1945 in Europe, considered the snow falling on the dead in “First Snow in Alsace.” “You think: beyond the town a mile /Or two, this snowfall fills the eyes / Of soldiers dead a little while.” Kristi Garboushian, who served with the Army in the Persian Gulf War in 1990-91, wrote in her poem, “The Ribbons on Hell’s Tree,” of the ominous desert ground. “In Iraq the land mines nap like sand dollars,” she wrote. DeCaul explained that because of poetry’s immediacy and brevity of form, it can sometimes mirror how memory works.\ “If you’re writing about the memories of war,” he said, “poetry can give you a space to mimic the way these thoughts might occur.” In his poem titled “Shush,” where each line begins, “I’ve been talking in my sleep,” DeCaul wrote about recurring nightmares and memories which stayed with him after his service, specifically some of those moments in Nasiriyah. “I’ve been talking in my sleep again, I see the muzzle flash / I’ve been talking in my sleep again, died by gunshot.” DeCaul said the poem gave him a chance to make sense of his experience. “It was me just trying to get it out,” he said. “That was me trying to deal with what had just happened.” DeCaul said a 2009 veterans workshop at New York University allowed him not only to express a sometimes ineffable experience but, maybe more importantly, connect with other veterans who had similar experiences. For DeCaul, writing and sharing poetry gave himself and other veterans “a space to be with each other … where the catharsis happens.” ‘War … Gave Me My Voice’ Bruce Weigl, who served in 1967-68 in Vietnam as a sergeant with the 1st Cavalry Division, is ambivalent about his war experience and the poetry it produced. “The paradox of my life as a writer,” he explains in his book The Circle of Hanh: A Memoir, “is that the war ruined my life and in return gave me my voice.” Weigl, the author of more than a dozen poetry collections, translations and a memoir, began writing after the war and has continued over the past 40 years. He said his English teacher at a community college in Ohio urged him to write about his experiences. “Without that encouragement, I don’t know what would have happened with my life,” said Weigl, a professor at Lorain County Community College in Ohio. Although Weigl argues that “poetry is not therapy,” its presence in his life has helped sustain him and create a sounding board for his time in Vietnam. Because poetry is often a combination of lived experience and imagination, Weigl tells his student-poets that “we allow our imagination to shape work that is powerful and accessible, so that others can understand this part of who we are.” ‘Song of Napalm’In one of Weigl’s most well-known poems, “Song of Napalm,” the speaker writes of seeing a young girl “running from her village, napalm / stuck to her dress like jelly.” At the poem’s close, the speaker wants to imagine that the girl survives, that someone can save her, but instead we face the reality of the situation: “…she is burned behind my eyes / and not your good love and not the rain-swept air / and not the jungle-green / pasture unfolding before us can deny it.” This poem, like many of Weigl’s, confronts war without glorification and attempts to acknowledge its horror without blinking. Other veterans, such as former Army Sgt. Jessica Faue, see poetry as inextricably linked to the transition into civilian life. “Writing poetry, for me, is very therapeutic,” said Faue. “Poetry helps me process my emotions, which inevitably helps me to adjust. The more I revise a poem about a painful experience, the more I can read it or say it out loud without breaking down, and the more healing I experience.” Faue, who joined the Michigan Army National Guard in 2002 and served in Iraq in 2005 as an automated logistical specialist, speaks of this “healing,” or “mending,” in her poem titled “Post Traumatic Relationship.” “war / tears apart what arrives / then / sends us home to / try to reconnect and / mend the broken pieces.” Poetry, according to Faue, can sometimes create a cathartic release when a person is finally able to transfer a difficult war experience into language. “Poetry affects me on all levels. There is an emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual release when you’ve finally got down the words that have been living inside for so long,” said Faue, whose maiden name is ‘Bentt.’ Like DeCaul, Faue attended a poetry writers’ workshop for veterans after her service. There, she found both solace and friendship. “Poetry has a way of bringing people together,” she said. “I found that I am not alone in my day-to-day struggles with PTSD. I also found that I am not alone in healing and working hard to overcome and persist through traumatic experiences.” ‘I Was a Coffin’ Gerardo (“Tony”) Mena, who served with the Marines as a Navy corpsman in Iraq from 2006-2007, cannot emphasize enough how poetry affected and helped him transition into life as a civilian. “The ability to look at situations that happened from multiple points of view helped desensitize me to a lot of the pain I brought back with me,” Mena said. He also explained how reading other veteran-poets — such as Vietnam War veterans Yusef Komunyakaa and Doug Anderson, along with Brian Turner, an Iraq War veteran — helped him feel less isolated on a college campus. “The more war writers I read,” Mena said, “the more I realized that they went through similar experiences.” In Mena’s award-winning poem, “So I Was a Coffin,” he personified various objects such as a flag, a spear, a bandage and a coffin, all in order to discuss the death of a friend, Marine Cpl. Kyle Powell, who died in Mena’s arms on Nov. 4, 2006, in Iraq’s Anbar province. “They said you are a bandage, so I was a bandage / I jumped on Kyle’s chest and wrapped my lace arms together around his torso and pressed my head to his rib cage.” Using various objects, the poem carries us through the soldier’s experience, especially the failed attempt to save a dying comrade. Of poetry’s form and style, Mena believes it’s liberating because “you can create in any form or style or choose any object or thing to be the narrator.” RELEASING PAINFUL MEMORIES Much like the speaker in “So I Was a Coffin,” Mena’s poetry helped him to begin “experimenting with narrating scenes and events from the war from other perspectives, even those of the enemy. This helped me become compassionate and understanding.” Mena said his book of poems, The Shape of Our Faces No Longer Matters, was inspired by his deployment. “It was my way of attempting to make sure that my friends who were wounded or KIA were still remembered,” he said. Besides remembering and memorializing the dead, poetry also seems to be one of the most powerful mediums to communicate the experience of war. “I do think there is power in using poetry to tell veteran stories,” Faue said. “The process is transformative and can help release painful and traumatic memories and experiences by writing them down. Sharing helps others bear witness and allows empathy and connection to take place.” Weigl also believes poetry transforms readers and those who write it. “I think the goal of all poetry is to change our lives,” he said. “Our lives are precious because they come to an end. That’s the same reason we write poetry.” This article is featured in the 2020 April issue of VFW magazine, and was written by Hugh Martin. Hugh Martin is an Army veteran of the Iraq War. He is the author of two poetry collections and is currently working on a doctoral degree at Ohio University.
VA and the Department of Defense (DoD) have taken action to minimize the number of non-essential required visits to identification (ID) card offices during the coronavirus public health emergency. If you have a VA or DoD ID card that has expired or is getting ready to expire, here are your options. VA-issued Veteran Health Identification Cards (VHIC): During the COVID-19 pandemic, Veterans enrolled in VA health care who are seeking a brand new VHIC (initial) should contact their local VA medical facility for guidance on going to facility to request a card. Once issued, cards are valid for 10 years. Most Veterans will be able obtain a replacement VHIC (not initial VHIC) by contacting their local VA medical facility and making their request by phone, or they can call 877-222-8387, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET. Once their identity has been verified, a replacement card will be mailed to them. DoD-issued ID Cards: Detailed information concerning DoD ID Card operations during the coronavirus pandemic can be found at the DoD Response to COVID-19 – DoD ID Cards and Benefits webpage (https://www.CAC.mil/coronavirus). Common Access Cards (CAC) (including military and civilian personnel): DoD civilian cardholders who are transferring jobs within DoD are authorized to retain their active CAC. Cardholders whose DoD-issued CAC is within 30 days of expiration may update their certificates online to extend the life of the CAC through Sept. 30, 2020, without having to visit a DoD ID card office in person for reissue. Directions for this procedure may be found at https://www.CAC.mil/coronavirus under News and Updates / User Guide – Updating CAC/VoLAC Certificates. Cardholders whose DoD-issued CAC has expired will have to visit a DoD ID card office in person for reissuance. Visit http://www.dmdc.osd.mil/rsl to find a DoD ID card office near you and schedule an appointment at https://rapids-appointments.dmdc.osd.mil. DoD-issued Uniformed Services ID Cards (USID) (including Reservist, military retiree, 100% disabled Veteran, and authorized dependent ID cards): Expiration dates on USID cards will be automatically extended to Sept. 30, 2020, within DEERS for cardholders whose affiliation with DoD has not changed but whose USID card has expired after Jan. 1, 2020. Sponsors of USID card holders may make family member enrollment and eligibility updates remotely. Initial issuance for first-time USID card-eligible individuals may be done remotely with an expiration date of one year from date of issue. The minimum age for first-time issuance for eligible family members has been temporarily increased from 10 to 14 years of age.
The American Legion in launching a COVID-19 impact survey to track trends in response to the pandemic. The survey will track the impact on veterans and their families throughout the pandemic’s duration. Participants can elect to be connected with a representative from The American Legion for assistance with VA benefits, employment, emotional wellness and personal contact for support. As this is an evolving situation, this survey will be conducted biweekly for updated responses. The first survey will be available until April 29. To take the COVID-19 impact survey, visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/BJ5283R. For the latest VA updates on coronavirus and common-sense tips on preventing the spread of disease, visit www.publichealth.va.gov/n-coronavirus/. Stay informed from The American Legion with updates from National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford at www.legion.org/coronavirus.
WASHINGTON – In an effort to help meet the growing demand, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) activated its 3D printing network in late March, to test 3D designs of medical equipment used by the nation’s health care providers to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. VA is teaming with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institute of Health (NIH) and innovators across the globe using 3D printing technology to prototype medical supplies, including customized personal protective equipment (PPE) like face shields, masks and ventilators. Developing 3D masks and other critical PPE supplies bolsters the nation’s fight against COVID-19. It also supports VA’s “Fourth Mission” to provide back-up assistance to the country’s public and health care systems during times of crisis. “VA is at the forefront of using 3D printing technology to benefit our patients,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “The collective actions of our partners allow us to bring VA’s medical expertise in 3D printing to the frontline of the fight against COVID-19, helping health care providers and patients stay safe.” Through this initiative, VA’s Innovation Ecosystem, the NIH 3D Print Exchange and FDA 3D Medical Device Initiativesare leveraging medical knowledge, with public health and safety expertise, while also validating the efficacy of 3D products. In parallel, America Makes will engage manufacturers willing to 3D print for hospitals across the country to bring production to scale and meet unprecedented demand. VA’s 3D printing initiative, based at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System, grew out of the efforts of local VA clinical innovators and now includes 33 sites exploring a wide range of clinical applications. This includes pre-surgical planning, orthotics and prosthetics, assistive technology, dental applications, bioprinting and now rapid prototyping and testing in response to COVID-19.
WASHINGTON – Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced several actions it has taken to help all Americans during the COVID-19 outbreak. “VA is committed to helping the nation in this effort to combat COVID-19,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Helping Veterans is our first mission, but in many locations across the country we’re helping states and local communities. VA is in this fight not only for the millions of Veterans we serve each day; we’re in the fight for the people of the United States.” VA traditionally provides Veterans’ healthcare, benefits and memorial affairs. In times of national crisis, such as the current Coronavirus pandemic, VA provides services to the nation based on requests from states, while being clear that Veterans are first. This is known as VA’s Fourth Mission. VA has determined to make 1,500 beds available for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). These beds will be a combination of acute care and intensive care beds for non-Veteran patients available at various VA locations around the country. For example, VA recently opened 35 beds between the Ann Arbor and Detroit VA Medical Centers to non-Veteran critical and non-critical COVID-19 patients. VA is caring for dozens of non-Veteran patients for COVID-19 across the country, pursuant to requests from FEMA and as part of the emergency response effort. As of this week, VA has treated non-Veterans in the following locations: VA New York Harbor (New York: 80 patients, 30 discharges, 5 deaths. VA New Jersey: 24 patients, 6 discharges, 1 death. VA Ann Arbor, Michigan: 17 patients, 5 discharges, no deaths. VA Detroit, Michigan: 10 patients, 2 discharges, no deaths. VA Albuquerque, New Mexico: 4 patients, 1 discharge. VA continues to accept mission assignments from FEMA to open beds for non-Veteran patients, after a determination is made that care to Veterans will not be disrupted. In the last few days, VA has made 35 beds available for the community at three facilities in Illinois: the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital, the Marion VA Medical Center, and the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center. Additionally, VA recently opened 18 beds at the Overton Brooks VA Medical Center in Louisiana. VA is caring for people in nursing homes who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 due to age or pre-existing medical conditions. Our VA facility in Providence, Rhode Island has cared for 7 community nursing home patients. Six of the 7 were transferred back to the community nursing home; the remaining patient died. Our VA facility in Bedford, Massachusetts has cared for 10 state Veterans Home patients. On April 4, 12 VA staffers were deployed to care for patients in two private nursing homes in Massachusetts: the Hunt Nursing Home in Danvers, and the Charlwell Nursing Home in Norwood. VA is reaching people where they live, by getting our resources to where people need them. VA loaned a mobile pharmacy trailer and two VA staff members to the TCF Center in Detroit, Michigan, where the Army Corps of Engineers has set up a makeshift hospital for 1,000 beds. The state of Michigan will provide remaining staff and supplies. In New Haven, Connecticut, 3 VA clinicians were recently placed on assignment .to provide clinical support for disaster operations related to COVID-19 homeless population. States that require assistance from VA should request it through their local Department of Health and Human Services Regional Emergency Coordinator — part of FEMA’s National Response Coordination Center. Counties, cities and other municipalities should route all requests for federal support through their respective states. VA continues to encourage Veterans, staff members and their families to take precautions to protect against respiratory illnesses caused by COVID-19, the flu and the common cold, and to follow the guidance of their local and state health care and emergency management officials.
WASHINGTON – Veterans continue to receive benefits and services after the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) temporarily closed its 56 regional offices to the public, March 19, in response to COVID-19. “The decision to close our offices to the general public, is part of the VA’s effort to limit exposure to vulnerable populations like our older Veterans and those with underlying medical conditions, as identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “VA is expanding existing technologies to remain accessible to Veterans, service members and their families.” Many in-person services are already available via the phone or online through virtual options like VA Video Connect. VBA has and continues to adjust to ensure the safety and well-being of its clients and staff. The changes include: Uninterrupted GI Bill payments so students continue to receive their benefits unaffected by any change from in-person to online learning. Supporting students for educational counseling through online and telephone services. Connecting Veterans to Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Services through teleconferencing; providing case management and general counseling virtually through VA Video Connect. Informal conference hearings by telephone or video conferencing when needed. Collecting information to process fiduciary claims by telephone. When necessary other accommodations will be arranged. Collecting information remotely via phone or teleconference when possible, to process grant requests for special adaptive housing. Conducting examinations for disability benefits using tele-compensation and pension or “tele-C&P” exams. If an in-person examination is required, Veterans will be notified for scheduling. Effective March 30, VA will discontinue VA benefit briefings and services on military installations for transitioning service members and their families through the interagency Transition Assistance Program (TAP) until further notice. However, VA will provide virtual briefings and individualized counseling for transitioning service members where possible. Service members who have not received these briefings, as required by TAP, may access the Joint Knowledge Online (JKO)platform and register for “TGPS-US006: VA Benefits and Services.” Veterans with specific questions can call 1-800-827-1000 or go www.ebenefits.va.gov for additional details. Veterans can continue to get information about benefits, file a claim online or can call for claim-specific questions. Visit VA’s website for information and updates regarding VA’s response to COVID-19.