The Department of Veterans Affairs this weekend set a new record for coronavirus deaths for the third consecutive month and surpassed 200,000 total cases among patients since the start of the pandemic last March.
More than 8,500 VA patients have died from complications related to the virus in the last 11 months, according to data made public by the department. About 1,800 have come in January alone, representing 21 percent of all deaths from coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.
In December, that death total was about 1,700 individuals. In November, the total was more than 900, then a record high. Those three months alone represent more than half of the total deaths in the pandemic among VA patients.
The sharp increase in deaths corresponds with similar increases throughout the United States. About 415,000 Americans have died from coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, 185,000 since the start of November.
In a statement, VA officials said that the percent of veterans diagnosed with coronavirus who eventually die from the illness has declined steadily through the pandemic, but acknowledged the recent increases in death totals.
“The U.S. and VA have experienced three surges of COVID-19 over the last year of the pandemic with each surge having more cases and deaths than the previous surge,” said Alan Greilsamer, director of media relations for the Veterans Health Administration. “VA is concerned with and works to prevent the death of any veteran from COVID-19 disease.”
Since the first VA patient death was reported on March 18 last year, roughly 27 VA patients a day have died from complications related to the disease.
Cases of coronavirus among VA patients have decreased in recent days, but still remain well above levels at the start of the fall. On Sunday evening, the department reported 14,041 active cases, a drop of 32 percent in the last two weeks but more than double what the level was at the start of November
As of mid January, VA officials had administered the first dose of the two-part coronavirus vaccine to more than 332,000 department health care employees and veterans at high-risk of contracting the illness. Another 45,000 individuals have already received their second dose.
In their statement, VA officials said their goal remains “to offer the COVID-19 vaccine to all health care workers and enrolled veterans who choose to be vaccinated.” President Joe Biden has announced a goal of delivering 100 million doses of the vaccine in 100 days.
“VA’s vaccine quantities will grow over time and we will progress toward our goal of offering vaccine to all staff and enrolled veterans as supply allows,” Greilsamer said. “As more vaccine becomes available, vaccination provider options should also increase, including doctors’ offices, retail pharmacies, hospitals and federally-qualified health centers.”
On Monday, VA officials transported vaccine doses for 240 veterans in rural Montana as part of a pilot program to deliver the medications to hard-to-reach areas throughout America.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.