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Veterans Benefits Information

The V.A. Prepares to Back Up a Health Care System Threatened by Coronavirus

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The sprawling Department of Veterans Affairs is legally designated as the nation’s backup health system and could prove vital in the pandemic.

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An urgent message about coronavirus

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The enemy we are facing isn’t hiding in the bush. Nor has it buried a roadside bomb unbeknownst to us. Yet the enemy is just as dangerous and deadly.

The coronavirus has been classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organization. The number of people who will test positive for the potentially fatal COVID-19 remains unknown, but there are steps we can take, and must take, to protect ourselves and help our fellow veterans and citizens.

I encourage you to use extreme caution and adhere to the best practices put forth by the health experts. Namely properly wash your hands frequently, use antibacterial rubs and practice “social distancing.”

Coronavirus is particularly dangerous for those over the age of 50 who contract it so please be cognizant of the risks when planning post activities and functions.

At the same time, this is an excellent opportunity to perform Buddy Checks. Check in with older veterans in your communities to make sure they have the supplies they need, are feeling healthy and help them acquire the resources they need. Of course, Buddy Checks can be done with phone calls and emails so as not to risk spreading or contracting coronavirus.

The coronavirus situation will be changing rapidly so we have to be nimble in our approach to serving our communities, states and nation. Among the best resources to follow are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov) and the World Health Organization (who.int).

Let’s also keep our thoughts and prayers with our servicemembers especially those overseas, our National Guardsmen, first responders and others who will be taxed in coming months. They need our support now more than ever.

We have faced down enemies, foreign and domestic, throughout our nation’s history. While this threat is ominous, we will once again work together to overcome it.


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Women’s history memorialized

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Nearly 2,800 military memorials, from 64 states and countries, have been uploaded to The American Legion’s memorial database since its launch in 2016. Here now, in honor of Women’s History Month, are a few of those memorials dedicated to women.

Idaho Women's Memorial, Idaho Falls, Idaho: The memorial includes a statue and plaque “to honor the female veterans of Idaho.”

Women in the Armed Forces Monument, Wakefield, Mass.: “(A) granite block with an inscription honoring the service of all Wakefield, Mass., women in the U.S. Armed Forces while inspiring future generations to answer the call.”

Patriot Park Women's Veterans Monument, Del City, Okla.: The newest memorial in the park, it is also the largest and most complex – culminating in “five life-size bronze statues of women servicemembers surrounding the pole, standing at attention, facing outward and holding hands in an unbroken circle around the flag.”

“Memorializes the contributions of American women in peace and war.”

Women in Military Service for America Memorial, Arlington, Va.: “Honors women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.”

If you know of a military monument to women veterans – or anyone else – not currently listed on the database, it’s easy to upload one. Go to www.legion.org/memorials and click on “Add a memorial” to get started.


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Questions and answers about the coronavirus

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The coronavirus outbreak is rapidly evolving and there are many concerns and questions that American Legion Family members have. The best resources are health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and state and local health departments. The following key questions and answers about the coronavirus have largely been assembled from the CDC website, the WHO website and elsewhere.

The flu happens every year. What’s the big deal about the coronavirus?

A person with the flu infects an average of 1.3 others. While health experts are still learning about coronavirus, they estimate that each person with COVID-19 will infect between two and four other people. Simply put, COVID-19 is expected to escalate quickly, leading to a significant number of cases and deaths, especially among those who are elderly or have existing respiratory conditions.

Still, coronavirus does not seem to be that fatal. How does it compare with the mortality rate for the flu?

Like the flu, older people (over age 50) are especially at risk. Same for those already in poor health. The World Health Organization estimates that the mortality rate of coronavirus is about 3.4 percent — around 100 times higher than flu. The mortality rate of coronavirus could range from 9 to 19 percent for older people, especially those with cardiovascular disease, diabetes or have other health issues related to compromised immunity.

There are billions of people on the planet, so my risks of contracting coronavirus are minimal. Correct?

The World Health Organization has determined coronavirus to be a pandemic. Health experts expect at least 1 billion people to be infected. With an estimated mortality rate as low as 2 percent, that translates to at least tens of millions of deaths globally. In the United States, experts estimate tens of millions of cases with more than 1 million dead.

So, are we all supposed to hide in our homes until the threat passes?

Right now you have probably noticed the cancellations of large-scale public events like sports competitions, business conferences and celebrations like St. Patrick’s Day parades. Many colleges and universities are also making changes like moving classes to online. The prevailing advice, at this time, is to engage in “social distancing.”

Because the virus is so contagious, limiting exposure to large groups of people will not only help protect you but others around you, who might be at an elevated risk. That’s why universities are being cautious. The risk is not necessarily for the younger students but to protect those who are older, and therefore more at-risk, such as faculty members, college staff and others on campus. By limiting the spread of the virus, we will not only save lives but allow our health-care system to focus more resources on fewer people.

Besides staying away from large public events, what should I do to protect myself?

The best course of action is to properly — and frequently — wash your hands with soap and warm water. Do not touch your face, nose and eyes. Additionally, here are some other tips:

• Don’t shake hands. Fist bumps are OK at this time.

• Use antibacterial rubs.

• Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing and coughing.

• Open doors with a shoulder, gloved or otherwise protected hand or your hip.

• Avoid unnecessary travel and public gatherings.

• If you are at-risk, consider wearing a mask.

How should our American Legion post operate during this time?

Follow the recommended guidelines, be safe and use caution. The situation is fluid, however, so be prepared to adjust as the situation warrants. And there is no one-size-fits-all solution since there will be areas harder hit by the virus than others.

One current recommendation is to avoid or cancel public gatherings of greater than 50 people. For some posts that affects their regular meetings. One thing to consider is to make the meetings available online so members can join in from their homes. Some posts already do this.

What is VA doing to protect patients, visitors and others at their facilities?

On March 10, VA instituted new safeguards aimed at limiting coronavirus exposure risk at its 134 nursing homes and other care centers. Most residents are older, and many have multiple complex health conditions, making them particularly vulnerable to infection. To minimize the risk of exposure, VA has:

• Adopted a “no visitor” stance, meaning no outside visitors will be permitted to see residents. The only exceptions will be in compassionate cases, such as when veterans are in hospice units.

• Suspended new admissions to all nursing homes.

• Implemented daily screening of nursing home staff.

Additionally, Richard Stone, Executive in Charge of the Veterans Health Administration, focused his presentation at the Legion’s Washington Conference on coronavirus precautions.

Will the onset of warmer weather slow down coronavirus?

It is unclear at this point. After all, right now there are countries such as Singapore that are dealing with the outbreak even though they are in a warmer climate. Additionally, we cannot let our guard down. The virus could slow down and then strike back harder when the temperatures recede again in the fall. Experts caution that this should continue through the summer, if not extensively longer.

Why isn’t there a vaccine available?

Vaccines are now being developed, but that takes time. Once tested and refined, it will take additional time to produce effective vaccines for billions of people.


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Post 30 in Maine finds Buddy Checks work

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In January, American Legion War Memorial Post 30 in Camden, Maine, conducted its first Buddy Checks. Initially, hesitation to make the phone calls was heard from a few members who felt that members wouldn't want to be "bothered with this type of thing; they probably had better things to do," said Post 30 Adjutant and retired Air Force veteran Jeff Sukeforth.

The hesitation didn't didn't stop Sukeforth and other Legion Family members from conducting the Buddy Checks. "And the results were off the chart wonderful," Sukeforth said.

Buddy Checks were made to current members, as well as to the widows of members who had passed last year. Post 30 members making the phone calls received many thank-yous and the "gratitude was flowing in every direction," Sukeforth said. "The checks work!" Post 30 members found that one of their fellow members had been living at the Togus VA medical center in Augusta, Ga., for three years and no one knew; and another member was dealing with a medical issue. The post chaplain and service officer have reached out to these members.

"Don't hesitate - if you have not conducted one of these checks, get it scheduled ASAP," Sukeforth said. "It is worth the time and effort, and don't forget your post's (widows) either.

"We have made the decision that we will complete Buddy Checks at least three times a year, and we look forward to doing the next one."

Resolution 18 calls for Buddy Checks to be conducted twice a year, during The American Legion's birthday (March 15-17) and Veterans Day (Nov. 11), but posts can conduct them at any time throughout the year as shown by Post 30. A kit is available to help guide posts on Buddy Checks at www.legion.org/membership/buddycheck. The online resource contains information about Buddy Checks, tips, answers to FAQs and downloadable resources such as a flyer, scripts and more.


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Did you know?

Military Funeral Honors ceremonies must be scheduled in advance.

The law requires that every eligible veteran receive a military funeral honors ceremony, which includes the folding and presentation of the United States flag and the playing of “taps,” upon the family’s request. This Department of Defense program calls for the funeral director to request military funeral honors on behalf of the veteran’s family.