There are an estimated 20 million veterans, with approximately 400.000 falling into the highest risk category for developing severe complications upon getting infected with COVID-19. Considering the age and the fact that most veterans probably have at least one underlying disease, making sure that they are protected from the possibility of getting infected with the coronavirus should become a priority for the community and health officials.
The urgency of prioritizing industrial workers as a vulnerable group might not seem that obvious. The latter might also have undiagnosed respiratory diseases due to their occupational toxic exposure. Unfortunately, there are still many states in the U.S that have a high rate of asbestos exposure and an above-average rate of deaths attributed to it.
Veterans and Former Industrial Workers With Underlying Diseases Are at Risk
Most people who get infected will probably only experience mild symptoms that will eventually heal without the need for hospitalization. However, certain groups of people are at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus and develop severe complications that can seriously endanger their lives. Based on the medical evidence and the studies conducted until now, these groups seem to be:
● People over the age of 70, regardless of their medical condition.
● People under the age of 70 who suffer from an underlying condition such as asthma, COPD, heart disease, kidney diseases, liver diseases, diabetes, neurological disorders, spleen issues.
● People who have had an organ transplant.
● People who have cancer and having chemotherapy (especially those with leukemia).
● People with severe respiratory diseases such as cystic fibrosis.
Age seems to be one of the biggest risk factors, though, as the highest mortality rates (around 20%) are among patients over 80. This risk could also significantly grow as many veterans are currently suffering from various forms of cancer due to asbestos exposure during their time in the military.
Veterans who served in the Marines/Navy have probably experienced the highest level of exposure, as pretty much all ships manufactured and used during WW2 contained vast amounts of asbestos. But even veterans who served in Iraq need to be cautious and check up on their health, as they could have been exposed too through the demolition of buildings containing asbestos.
Former industrial workers risk developing severe complications if infected with COVID-19 if they have a history of exposure to various toxins that could have damaged their lungs and left them with respiratory diseases. Asthma is the most common work-related disease, with 15% of adult-onset cases developing because of occupational exposure to fumes, dust, or gasses, followed by COPD.
Industrial workers also run the risk of developing a disease called pneumoconiosis (because of silica exposure) and asbestosis or lung cancer due to asbestos exposure. These diseases are a huge risk factor because the coronavirus also attacks the respiratory system. If the respiratory disease is already present, the body’s immune system is already too weak to fight off a new infection, potentially leading to organ failure.
What Measures is the V.A. Taking?
Considering that veterans are among the most vulnerable groups to contract COVID-19 and develop severe complications, it’s essential to know what measures the V.A. is taking to ensure the safety of millions of veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs is designed to function as the backup health care system in a national emergency such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Considering its experience in managing the vulnerable U.S. population, it’s safe to assume that they’re better prepared to face the current crisis than the rest of the healthcare system. The V.A. has prepared a surplus of beds and unique rooms for patients with breathing disorders in most centers (172 throughout the country). All medical centers are currently taking all the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the virus. Veterans who develop symptoms of COVID-19 are asked to call their health care center so they won’t have to leave their homes.
The V.A. declared that an aggressive public health response had been implemented to protect veterans. They are working directly with the C.D.C. and all other federal partners to monitor the virus continuously. Measures taken until now include clinical screening at all V.A. health care facilities and protective procedures for patients admitted to community centers. Additionally, Veterans can also use My HealtheVet or telehealth options to communicate with the V.A. and explain their symptoms securely.
COVID-19 Protection Measures for the Vulnerable Population
Even though vaccines are available throughout the U.S caution must be taken still so that the healthcare system doesn’t become overwhelmed, and lead to a much higher death rate. Aside from social distancing and vaccination, the best thing to do is wash your hands constantly. The virus is practically encased in a layer of fat that breaks down and gets deactivated by soap and water and washed away by the movement of the hands.
The people who are in the high-risk groups must protect themselves from getting infected with the new coronavirus as it can be quite dangerous. If you start feeling symptoms similar to those of COVID-19, it’s best to contact your doctor or a V.A. facility and not go to the hospital or clinic directly.