Nov 11, 2020 - Health

The pandemic's toll on veterans

Illustration of coronavirus casting a virus-shaped shadow upon dog tags
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Here's something to think about on Veterans Day: As tough as the pandemic has been on most Americans, it has hit many U.S. veterans especially hard and made their struggles with mental health even tougher.

The big picture: Isolation during the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in increased instances of depression and suicide among veterans as coronavirus cases spike all over the country.

  • "Sleep problems, post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression are the top reported problems for the injured veteran population, and these are some of the challenges that are being exacerbated by COVID-19," said Melanie Mousseau, vice president of program operations and partnerships at the Wounded Warrior Project.
  • "Not only is this a population that struggles with, day after day, working through those challenges — now this is being amplified."

Driving the news: A number of recent studies highlight the problems facing veterans as the coronavirus pandemic rages on.

  • According to one recent survey of 30,000 veterans wounded after 9/11, 52% said their mental health has gotten worse and 49% said their physical health has become worse since they started social distancing during the pandemic.
  • Sixty-one percent said they felt more disconnected from friends, family and community, according to the survey by the Wounded Warrior Project.
  • Veterans are delaying doctors' appointments too, with 70% reporting having in-person appointments canceled or postponed. And 40% noted employment difficulties.
  • The Associated Press reported in September that military suicides have gone up as much as 20% this year compared to the same period in 2019.
  • A study by the Bob Woodruff Foundation this spring said emergent trauma, loneliness due to social isolation, and unplanned job losses creates a "perfect storm" threatening the mental health of veterans.

By the numbers: Beyond the stress caused by the pandemic, coronavirus cases are up among veterans, too. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there have been 83,383 cases among VA hospitals with 4,223 known deaths.

The bottom line: As the pandemic spreads — and gets even worse during the winter months — don't forget the unique damage it's inflicting on those who have served our country.

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