Guest Contributor Rebecca Stackhouse Salem VA Health Care System Executive Director
It’s been more than 15 months since our nation began its fight against COVID-19. The burdens and responsibilities of the pandemic have strained organizations, families, and each of us in personal ways, but we are closing the gap with increased vaccinations and by continuing the measures that have helped us for the last year.
At the Salem VA Health Care System, we’ve provided more than 21,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, and nationwide, the VA has distributed vaccine to more than 2.3 million Veterans. For people like Army Veteran Antonius Dillard, he got the vaccine because he wanted to hug his daughter again. He also had the virus in late 2020 and said, “I’d hate for my worst enemy to go through with it.” Others like Navy Veteran Colleen Russell, “I decided to get my COVID vaccination mostly because I don’t want to get COVID.”
Recent legislation has enabled us to open vaccination clinics to any Veteran – regardless of enrollment status or type of discharge – along with their spouse or caregiver. We encourage every Veteran, Veteran’s spouse, and caregiver to receive their COVID-19 vaccine. If you are a Veteran who received your vaccine with a community provider, please bring your vaccination card to your next appointment. If you or a Veteran in your life haven’t come in for care in a while, please check in with your provider team and consider scheduling an appointment. If you know a Veteran who isn’t enrolled in VA health care and is interested in their eligibility, please direct them to the following website: http://www.va.gov/health-care/eligibility/
More than a year ago we began implementing safety measures to protect Veterans and our staff from getting sick. For each appointment we weighed the options and risks and when clinical urgency rose above the risk of COVID-19, we provided in-person care. When it did not, we offered alternatives. This was the right decision and, in many cases, Veterans told us they preferred postponing routine care because they did not want to risk being exposed to the virus.
We successfully moved many appointments to video and telephone when that was appropriate and helped meet the needs of our patients. This has offered unexpected benefits of convenience for Veterans and additional engagement options for family and caregivers. Unlike with in-person care, virtual options give a Veteran’s support network the ability to join visits and engage with VA providers more easily. We anticipate continuing to offer virtual visits even as we return to more in-person care.
As we move forward, we are welcoming Veterans back and encouraging them to talk to their health care teams about coming in for routine and preventative care. These appointments, from cancer screenings to eye exams are essential to staying healthy and ultimately saving lives.
As our community spread of COVID-19 decreases, many have already resumed their care, while others have begun scheduling appointments for the weeks ahead, either within the VA or when eligible, in the community.
We are proud that so many Veterans continue to choose VA, allowing us to coordinate timely, quality and patient-focused care inside or outside our walls.
I want our Veterans to know that Salem VAHCS is dedicated to caring for them, not just in this time of national emergency, but continuing now and into the future. While we are part of the national health care system, first and foremost, we are members of this vibrant community. Salem VAHCS’s more than 1,800 employees are here day and night for those who have served our nation and call southwest Virginia home.
I hope Veterans and all members of the community will take the time to work with their medical providers and get their COVID-19 vaccinations. Our doors are open, and we look forward to seeing you soon.