More than 15,000 Veterans Affairs patients have died from coronavirus-related conditions in the 19 months since the pandemic began in America, with more than 2,200 of those fatalities coming since the start of August.

The grim milestone equates to roughly 26 deaths a day among VA patients since the start of the pandemic comes just a few days after the country passed 700,000 deaths from the virus.

Nearly 44 million Americans have contracted COVID-19 since early 2020, with about 1.5 percent losing their lives because of respiratory and circulation problems resulting from the infection.

The death rate among VA patients is much higher: about 4.4 percent. But department officials have noted that their patients are much more likely to be older and have existing health problems than the general population, making them more vulnerable to the virus than the average American.

In comparison, the Defense Department has reported 58 deaths among service members since the start of the pandemic, for a mortality rate of about 0.02 percent.

Only about 35 percent of the VA coronavirus deaths were among inpatients at department medical centers. The rest were veterans with connections to the VA health care system who died at home or in private medical settings, and were reported to department officials.

VA officials have cautioned that their death totals do not represent all of the veteran fatalities in America, but instead only a portion of that group with connections to VA medical care.

September was among the deadliest months since the start of the pandemic, with more than 1,200 deaths reported. The only other times that VA officials reported more than 1,000 coronavirus deaths in a month were in December 2020 and January and February 2021, during the second major wave of the pandemic in America.

A third wave of coronavirus cases came this summer, as the delta variant of the virus swept across the country. VA officials saw active cases of the virus swell from around 1,500 a day in June to more than 14,000 a day in late August.

Those numbers have dropped in recent weeks, but still remain more than five times higher than they were at the start of the summer.

The VA death total does not include 203 department employees who have died from COVID-19. Department leaders in recent months have moved to require all VA staff to get vaccinated against coronavirus, in an effort to ensure safety for individuals visiting VA medical facilities.

More than 3.5 million veterans have received vaccines through department medical facilities in the last 10 months. About 100,000 have received a booster shot in recent weeks.

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.

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