As virus spreads among veterans, VA shuts down benefits offices, expands online service

Coronavirus
Photo credit Photo by 1st Sgt. Rodolfo Armando Barrios Quinones/VA Caribbean Healthcare System
By Connecting Vets

As the coronavirus spreads among veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs is shutting down its regional benefits offices, transition assistance and other programs and expanding online services.

“The decision to close our offices to the general public, is part of the VA’s effort to limit exposure to vulnerable populations like our older veterans and those with underlying medical conditions, as identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement March 31. “VA is expanding existing technologies to remain accessible to Veterans, service members and their families.”

As of March 31, at least 41 veterans had died of the virus, according to VA, and the department was tracking at least 1,347 cases of veterans testing positive for COVID-19. VA said it had administered "over 14,930 tests nationwide." The number of deaths is a sharp one-day increase from Monday when VA reported 27 veteran deaths. 

Beginning Monday, VA said it shut down its benefit briefings and services on military installations for transitioning troops and their families through the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) "until further notice." 

VA announced it planned to close its 56 regional Veterans Benefits Administration offices earlier this month, but said veterans will continue to receive their benefits and services, as the department plans to move online. 

Some in-person services are already available online or by phone, VA said in a news release, including processing some claims and grants. Disability exams for benefits are already being moved to telehealth, and if an in-person exam is required, VA said veterans will be notified. 

Veterans with questions can call 1-800-827-1000 or go to www.ebenefits.va.gov for more information. 

VA also produced a guide for veterans on coronavirus

VA coronavirus plan: 40 percent of staff could be absent during severe outbreak

VA asks retired doctors, nurses to return to duty to help fight COVID-19

Former VA Secretary explains what the VA, America’s emergency backup, can do during pandemics

Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.
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