WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs runs the largest healthcare system in the country and we spoke one-on-one with the VA Secretary about how the department is protecting the millions of vets in its care.
As of Thursday, the VA said 484 veterans have tested positive for the coronavirus and six veterans have died from it.
"We started preparing for this last month,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said.
Wilkie said the VA has been screening people who show up for care by asking questions and taking temperatures.
He said the VA also stopped elective surgeries.
"That was designed to do a couple of things,” Wilkie said. “One, free up our beds. Two, stop the wear and tear on our people and three, stabilize our supplies and our blood supply."
Wilkie said around 7,800 veterans are at the community living centers where most residents are high-risk for the coronavirus because they are seniors.
The VA has stopped visitation to those centers.
"That was an incredibly tough decision,” Wilkie said. “We had to make it because we felt that was the only way that we could protect our veterans."
So far, the VA said just under 3,400 veterans have been tested for the coronavirus.
"How we determine who gets a test is very simple,” Wilkie said. “If you have the symptoms that most often are indicative of someone coming down with this virus, the cough, the fever, we tell them to contact us."
CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) Jeremey Butler said the amount of veterans who have been tested is “incredibly low” compared to the more than nine million veterans in VA care and he hopes to see more testing done soon.
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