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VA Health Centers See COVID 19 Infections in Employees: Union says Poor Readiness to Blame

Chris Bolt/WAER News

The death toll is rising at the nation’s Veterans’ Hospitals .... and not just among the patients.  Records released to WAER news by the Department of Veterans Affairs show at least 23 VA employees have died of COVID 19 nationwide.  And in Syracuse, VA employees have not escaped infection.  

The head of the union representing VA health workers says a lack of protective equipment is putting doctors and nurses at risk.

“These are the same people that have to care for our veterans, right?  And if you’re giving them that risk of exposure, think of veterans exposed unnecessarily, and that’s the reason we’re trying to raise that awareness.”

Reports show a growing number of workers are also in isolation.

More than 2,200 employees have tested positive for the virus at VA hospitals in the US.  Locally,

that includes at least six at the Syracuse VA Medical Center.  There are hundreds more recovering at the major New York VA hospitals in and around New York city.

The VA says the infection rate among workers is lower than some private hospitals, because of its policies on personal protective devices.  But Everett Kelley, President of the American Federation of Government Employees -- a union representing VA workers - -says in some parts of the country the agency is rationing masks.

“Veterans are being exposed unnecessarily and that’s why we’re trying to raise this awareness because we think the VA could have been better prepared.  We think they should have been better prepared.”

To slow the spread among patients and staff., the VA has ended visitation at its 135 nursing homes nationwide.  The Department also offers advice to veterans concerned about or experiencing symptoms that might be realted to coronavirus.

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.