Coronavirus Cases at U.S. Veterans Hospitals Tripled in June

The cases of new coronavirus patients being treated at veterans hospitals and health care facilities tripled last month, according to a story in the Military Times.

The Department of Veteran Affairs reported that it treated 4,100 COVID-19 patients at 138 medical facilities in the U.S. in June. That is up from 1,390 in May.

So far, the virus has claimed the lives of 1,629 VA patients and 39 employees, while more than 122,000 people nationwide have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Currently 4,250 active new coronavirus cases are being treated in VA hospitals, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Those numbers include 3,735 veterans, 359 VA staff members, and 140 listed as others who are likely eligible dependents of veterans.

VA Hospital Patients
A nurse puts medication or water into the feeding tube of a COVID-19 patient at the Medical Intensive Care Unit floor, MICU, at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in the Manhattan borough of New York City. The VA has reportedly seen their case of COVID-19 patients triple in June. Robert Nickelsberg/Getty

Officials said 20,509 VA patients were treated for the new coronavirus at veteran's hospitals and facilities since early March, but as of June 30, the number of COVID-19 patients being treated by the VA had increased to 22,728.

Christina Noel, press secretary for the Department of Veteran Affairs, said that the some of increase in new coronavirus cases at veterans hospitals is related to an increase in COVID-19 testing.

"We are currently testing an average of 3,863 people per day, whereas, in May, we were testing an average of 2,745 people per day," Noel told Newsweek.

Many of the recent cases in VA hospitals have been treated in Florida, Texas, Arizona, Illinois and South Carolina, where recent spikes of new coronavirus cases have been reported.

According to the VA's National Summary, the VA Health Care facility in Phoenix, has among the highest number of reported COVID-19 cases, with 537 cases reported and 340 of those still active. So far, 21 veterans have died from the virus at the Phoenix VA Hospital. In San Antonio, which is home to three military bases, 510 cases have been reported, with 322 of those still active.

However, Noel said the best measure of how COVID-19 is affecting VA patients is the number of hospitalizations. The VA reports that hospitalization rates were steady. In March, the COVID-19 hospitalization rate for the VA Health Care System was at 38 percent, dropping to 22 percent by the end of June.

Noel added that all VA medical centers are taking precautions and considering the unique circumstances of their state and local markets, environmental safety preparedness and clinical risk assessments.

"VA has put in place rigorous safety measures at all of its facilities, including employee and veteran COVID-19 screening, physical distancing and appropriate personal protective equipment such as face coverings," Noel said. "Additionally, VA will continue to maximize the personalized virtual care options of telehealth, phone consults and wellness checks, as these services have been a valuable link to Veterans during this challenging time."

On June 29, the VA announced the launch of a COVID-19 screening tool that is designed to streamline the veteran's health care and will screen upward of 10,000 veterans per day who are seeking care.

"This screening tool emphasizes the ongoing importance of VA's investment in digital modernization, as it went from initial concept to national availability in less than two weeks," VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement. "In addition to providing a broad range of innovations and improvements that significantly benefit the Veterans we serve; our culture of innovation allows us to respond quickly to urgent and evolving needs."