Veterans Roundup: Paralyzed and Older Veterans in the COVID Crosshairs, Many Staying in Uniform but Women More Likely to Punch out, and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

‘Terrified and trapped’: Paralyzed veterans struggle during pandemic
Stars and Stripes, Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling)

COVID-19 has been uncomfortable in some form or fashion for most people. But for some people living with pre-existing conditions, the situation has, in many cases, been downright horrifying. People living with disabilities often have comorbidities, making them a high risk population for infection of COVID-19. It is important to note that within the disabled population itself, there are major disparities in how people with disabilities experience the pandemic. Folks who live independently and are financially better off, are able to socially isolate and cope with the pandemic much more effectively. Income is also a huge variable affecting the way you have been able to cope with this crisis. As a disabled person having money, according to Andrew Purlang, “buys access, security, and even respect to some extent.” However, for people with extensive limitations, unable to live independently, social isolation is not always possible. People who rely on daily hired help to come inside their homes now have to deal with anxieties and fears about getting sick. Many paralyzed veterans, according to the article, are struggling with meeting their basic needs like buying groceries. Additionally, the mental health of paralyzed veterans is a huge concern, given that many already struggle from anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Making the situation even more grim is the very ableist undertones that have persisted throughout the past two months. The national COVID narrative has successfully split people into two groups; those who are high-risk (by no choice of their own) and considered disposable to this illness, and those who are able-bodied, healthy, and low-risk. Taking precautions to help stop the spread of the virus has been flipped completely on its head. Now, “taking precautions to help stop the spread” somehow means to some people “you are taking away my rights.” Amidst the yelling, seriously injured paralyzed veterans whose lives depend on their circle of community caregivers are left to the wayside, hoping they don’t get exposed to the virus or pass it on to the next caregiver that comes through their door. The public health of our society is dependent on people taking precautionary measures to stop the spread of this virus. But understanding this concept is dependent on the health literacy of our entire country…and this is not looking good. Non-disabled people are experts at responding with rage to everything. Yet, rage rarely helps solve the bigger societal and systemic issues we are facing. Andrew Pulrang, writer and disability activist says, “The problem is that outrage is rarely put to good use. And for those who are on the receiving end of abuse and injustice … like disabled people subjected to ableism … individual outrage with no deeper follow-up becomes stale and annoying. Worse, it tends to draw energy away from work and ideas that actually matter.” Regardless of the side of the aisle you fall on, instead of adding to the noise, do something else. Make a donation, if you can, to help buy groceries for paralyzed veterans. And please, just wear a mask in public spaces for a little while longer and wash your hands. These things really do matter. – Kiersten Downs, PhD, Research Director at ScoutComms

Veterans who sacrificed for their country battle coronavirus threat
CNN, Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) and Chandler Schlegel (@chandlerschleg)

We know that COVID-19 is striking older people in staggering numbers, along with minorities, across the nation. After the VA released statistics showing that at least 985 coronavirus patients have died after receiving care from the VA health system, a number that continues to climb this week, there is a growing fear in the veteran community about the risks to older vets. Remarkable data shows that if the VA health system, along with the hard hit state veterans homes across the nation, were a state of their own, it would rank 16th in the nation for total virus-related deaths. Deaths in those state homes have shot through the roof and while these state-run facilities are partially supported by the VA, Secretary Robert Wilkie is reportedly blaming local governments for failing to protect elderly veterans in them. However, former VA Assistant Secretary Linda Schwartz noted that Secretary Wilkie has the authority to “create and enforce guidelines to hold these homes accountable” and many advocates are not letting VA avoid sharing the blame. The great John Rowan, president of Vietnam Veterans of America, commented, “It felt like I had a target on my back. Older male with preexisting conditions. That’s me and every Vietnam veteran I know practically.” There are no easy answers, but it’s clear that conditions among older veterans and those that care for them are in grave circumstances with stories of PPE shorages at VA and horrifying tales of over half the populations of some of the state homes dying from the disease. In many ways, COVID-19 has become a sniper in its precision to target vulnerable populations and wreak havoc on them, running through nursing homes like a rampage. We have a lot to learn about this illness, but we know the things that can prevent its spread and the longer everyone makes excuses instead of doing what needs to be done, the more veterans and others will die. The clock isn’t just ticking anymore. It’s banging so loud the whole building is shaking. Leaders need to lead. – Fred Wellman, CEO and Founder of ScoutComms

South Korea to provide 10,000 face masks to help Navajo veterans fight coronavirus
Stars and Stripes, Kim Gamel (@kimgamel)

In the latest of a series of humanitarian efforts, the South Korean government announced their intent to ship 10,000 masks and hand sanitizer to aid Navajo veterans of the Korean War “as an expression of gratitude for their contribution.” Reportedly, the Navajo Nation has been one of the communities hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with infection rates rivaling that of New York City as almost 4,000 positive cases have been reported on the reservation. South Korean government official Kim Eun-gi said, “We hope our small gifts will console the veterans in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. The government remembers those who made a noble sacrifice to defend [Korea] 70 years ago.” 

Thousands defer plans to leave the military during crisis
AP, Lolita C. Baldor (@lbaldor)

Uncertainty about economic and educational opportunities is driving service members across the military to re-enlist or postpone scheduled departures. Reportedly, multiple branches of the military expect to exceed retention goals; this will offset shortfalls in recruiting, which has been obstructed by the coronavirus. An Air Force pilot commented that the military provides “stability,” as service members are “still collecting a paycheck and going to work,” while other professions are “getting laid off and not working.” The Army implemented a program to help soldiers reconsidering their plans to leave the service, and offers options to delay departures until the expected peak of the coronavirus has passed. Army Sgt. Antonio Gozikowski, who signed up for the program, said it’s a welcome “safety net” during this period of uncertainty.

VA reported more than 1,000 coronavirus deaths. But the actual veteran toll is much higher.
Washington Post, Alex Horton (@AlexHortonTX)

The Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals has reported more than 1,000 deaths due to coronavirus infections. These deaths unfortunately do not reflect the many who have died in state-run homes, as well as the 28 states who are not reporting veteran deaths. The VA reported 1,012 deaths on it’s tracking site, while the advocacy group collecting nationwide data, Vietnam Veterans of America, reported at least 550 deaths in state-run homes. The first coronavirus victim within VA’s network of 1,200 medical facilities was a 70-year-old veteran in Portland who passed away on March 14. The pace then accelerated such that more than 2,000 VA staffers have been infected with at least 30 staffer deaths. Only one active duty service member has died of the coronavirus – a sailor aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt last month. With such difficulty and discrepancy in reporting, it is difficult to determine the true veteran death toll, although many factors put veterans at higher risk.

‘Lower your shield’: How Marines are defending each other in their deadliest battle yet*
ConnectingVets, Abbie Bennett (@AbbieRBennett)

The Marines of the 2/7 and 2/3 infantry battalions saw some of the heaviest combat and losses during each of their deployments, which have continued for nearly two decades since. Now, they and others have been conducting weekend retreat-reunions meant to bring back that sense of camaraderie and community. Sometimes guided by a “trusted doc” like Shauna Springer, a civilian psychologist who specializes in trauma and meant to help guide the healing, they work together to be able to address the pent up trauma, pain and grief that they’re all going through in a group where they feel more safe and ready to take down those walls. “What this did for me is re-establish that tribe mentality … I have guys I talk to once a week now. You have that support system again,” said Corp. David Bachmann, one of the “War Dogs” of the Second Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment.

*This story was produced before the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact the Veteran Crisis Line 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. Veterans, service members or their families also can text 838255 or go to

Women Nearly 30% More Likely to Leave the Military Than Men, New Report Finds, Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime)

The amount of women in the Aarmed Fforces grew from 15.1% in 2004 to 16.5% in 2018, with the Navy seeing the largest increase over 15 years. The Air Force consistently has had the highest percentage of women serving since 2004, while the Army and Marine Corps are at or below the total force percentage. Analysts from the Government Accountability Office found that the likelihood of women separating from the Armed Forcesarmed forces is 28% higher than men, coupled with lesser female enlisted promotion rates compared to men across the board. The GAO also noted the six main concerns that lead to women leaving service include: work schedules, organizational culture, family planning, dependent care, deployments and sexual assault. Female veterans mentioned “both the occurrence of a sexual assault and how it was handled by the military as contributing to their separation,” the authors noted. Despite statements by Army and Marine Corps representatives touting the importance of diversity and female recruitment and retention as a priority, the GAO found that the services have failed to develop plans that include goals, performance measures and time frames to guide their efforts. In order to support female recruitment and a more diverse culture, the GAO has called for more concrete action, to which the DoD, Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force responded with agreement to their recommendations.

How COVID-19 shifted the way we support veterans
Military Times, Amy Palmer (@soldiersangels)

With COVID-19 hitting the elderly veteran population especially hard – the number of COVID-19 patients in the VA health system increased almost 6 percent just last week – health care and nursing facilities have adapted and implemented strict new policies. Much of the traditional volunteer support provided by organizations like Soldiers’ Angels has shifted. The John D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit, Michigan where the virus has hit the hardest set their no-visitor policy for as far out as 2021. President and CEO of Soldiers’ Angels Amy Palmer writes, “Rather than waiting for policies to become less restrictive, we have shifted our tactics so that veterans and their caregivers get the support they need now — when they need it most.” Soldiers’ Angels has numerous virtual teams of volunteers supporting veterans and service members through the COVID-19 crisis. From writing cards to sewing masks and blankets for VA hospitals and nursing facilities, Soldiers’ Angels is adapting to safely serve this community – ensuring no soldier goes unloved.

Fred Wellman

Fred Wellman, CEO and Founder of ScoutComms, brings us his weekly review of veteran news via The Scout Report. Fred served over twenty years as an Army officer in both aviation and public affairs. Follow Fred on Twitter @ScoutComms

This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 26, 2020 12:47 pm

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