Nov 10, 2021 - Health

Veterans died at lower rates in 2020 compared to the general population

County-level estimates of excess all-cause mortality during 2020 from the Veterans Health Administration’s Corporate Data Warehouse. Screenshot: The Lancet Regional Health

More U.S. veterans died in 2020 than in previous years, but the increase was less than among the general population during the pandemic, according to a new study published in The Lancet Regional Health.

Why it matters: Veterans tend to have higher risks of severe health outcomes from COVID-19 due to their age, and other conditions like hypertension, diabetes and obesity.

By the numbers: The study, based on Veterans Health Administration data, showed 426,069 deaths among veterans from March–December 2020, a nearly 17% increase compared to previous years.

  • The excess deaths — 51,436 in all — were mostly in Alaska, the Great Plains, South Atlantic and West South Central regions of the U.S.
  • The U.S. had an excess mortality rate of 23% in the same time frame.

The big picture: While there's no specific explanation as to why deaths were lower for this at-risk population, the study authors point out veterans were able to keep their health insurance coverage.

  • "Many in the U.S. lost or were forced to switch health insurance plans due to layoffs — while in the VA access isn't conditional on employment," Yevgeniy Feyman, a doctoral candidate at Boston Unversity and co-author, said in a statement.
  • The VA also had existing telehealth infrastructure compared to private companies that had to build theirs out.

The bottom line: When hospitals and ICUs are full, patients die at higher rates for most diseases.

  • The VA system was better at preventing deaths related to the pandemic, per the study.
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