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Veterans Health Council Report, September/October 2020 -   -  


How to Protect Yourself and Your Family During the Pandemic


The COVID-19 pandemic has affected us in many personal and long-lasting ways, from job loss and financial pressures to isolation and loneliness. Its impact upon our health is truly profound because it can be so long lasting.

A staggering number have lost their lives, and millions have become ill and developed continuing health problems. There also are other serious effects we will have to face long into the future if we don’t act now.

Routine checkups, health screenings, and surgeries have been postponed, and many other forms of self-care have been delayed. At VA hospitals and clinics, as well as at private health care offices and public health facilities, fear of contracting the virus and interruptions in care have kept people away. Far too many of us haven’t seen a doctor when we needed to.

The disruption of our routine health care also has caused a disruption in people staying on top of vaccinations, which are critical disease-prevention tools. Research shows that vaccination rates have declined significantly among all age groups. That includes the Vietnam veteran age group. Based on the latest statistics, vaccine rates for older adults have dropped an alarming 83 percent compared to last year.

The news about vaccinations and children isn’t encouraging either. A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, found that in Michigan fewer than half of all babies five months and younger are up to date on recommended vaccinations.

We may have to wait for a COVID-19 vaccine to be developed, but it makes no sense not to protect ourselves from the diseases we already can do something to prevent. The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases is leading a national Keep Up The Rates campaign to encourage everyone to get the recommended vaccines we may have put off getting during the pandemic. I am asking each of you to do the same.

Please take care of yourself. See your doctor, nurse practitioner, or pharmacist; make an appointment at the VA; or call your public health service or health care provider. Get current on all your health care testing, vaccines, and checkups, and urge your family and friends to do so as well.




Autumn is flu season. Influenza is a serious health concern, especially in adults over the age of 65 who have multiple chronic health conditions. The majority of flu-related hospitalizations—and 90 percent of the deaths—occur in older adults. Individuals with heart disease are ten times more likely to have a heart attack within three days of coming down with the flu. With 15.5 million Americans suffering from heart disease, this is a leading cause of death.

Some 30 million Americans have diabetes. Those with diabetes who contract the flu are six times more likely to be hospitalized. The flu also puts the 31 million people with asthma and COPD at greater risk of serious flu-related complications. Flu vaccines reduce the admission rates for strokes, heart failure, and other causes of death in older patients with Type 2 diabetes.

The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months get a flu shot each year. The best time to get vaccinated is in the early fall, before influenza viruses begin spreading in the community. You cannot get flu from a flu shot. Only inactive (dead) flu virus is used to make flu vaccine.

Adults with health conditions—including heart disease, asthma, diabetes, liver or kidney disorders, and weakened immune systems—are at especially high risk for influenza and its complications. Please consult your health care provider for additional medical evaluation.

I will be working closely with the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and will provide periodic flu vaccine updates and flu-related information. Visit www.nfid.org to learn more.


VHC Deputy Director Rebecca Patterson and I presented “Improving Community Care for Military Veterans” at the virtual 2020 American Academy of Family Physicians National Conference for Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students, held July 30 to August 1.

America’s family physicians provide more care in underserved and rural populations than any other medical specialty. During this session, VHC told attendees about potential exposures to biological, chemical, and physical agents during military service; the importance of identifying patients who have a military affiliation; and available resources to help evaluate veterans’ health concerns.




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