SIERRA VISTA— As COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on mostly everything, some of the local and national groups that provide resources to military veterans have had to change the way they deliver assistance.
For the most part, that face-to-face contact between veterans and the organizations that back them has eroded because of the pandemic.
Glenn Hohman, Department of Arizona Commander for Disabled American Veterans and a trustee and judge advocate at the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Sierra Vista, said, “We’re seeing many organizations go virtual.”
But Hohman said the local DAV office is trying to do things a little differently by trying “not to go completely virtual.”
Hohman, a retired Army First Sergeant who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, also said the Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter in Sierra Vista is keeping its doors open — albeit in a more restricted manner — to provide the “comradery” that veterans need.
Right now, because virus numbers have risen in Cochise County, the DAV office at Cochise College’s downtown campus is closed, Hohman said. But employees are working and helping veterans both by phone and virtually with referrals and other information.
“We did open our offices (for a short time), but the (COVID-19) numbers are going up and down,” Hohman said.
The onset of the virus also has changed the DAV’s walk-in policy for veterans. Before the pandemic struck, veterans could just walk in without an appointment, Hohman said. But that sometimes created a line of people waiting to be helped.
“Even when we’re open, we’re now asking people to make an appointment so we can avoid those lines,” Hohman said.
An appointment can be made via phone or email, Hohman said. The number is (520) 458-0307; the email address is email@example.com.
At the VFW, 549 Veterans Drive, no appointment is necessary. The facility, a community center of sorts, is allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity and so far no one has been turned away.
“Their main thing is comradery,” Hohman said.
At the moment, 35 people are allowed in the canteen area and about 100 in the facility’s main hall. If more than 35 show up at the canteen, the main hall is used for overflow, Hohman said. The VFW also is providing take-out dinners, but anyone seeking that human contact can eat there too.
“If someone wants to eat in the canteen (for companionship) they can, as long as they practice social distancing,” Hohman said.
Booking the main hall for private events is allowed, but the gatherings are limited to less than 50 people. Hohman said the center is cleaned daily in accordance with health guidelines. The number for the VFW is (520) 458-2803.
On the national front, the pandemic has sparked a jump in “remote mental health care use among veterans,” an article in MilitaryTimes shows.
According to the MilitaryTimes story, because medical appointments were cancelled at VA healthcare facilities and veterans were forced into “self-isolation” courtesy of COVID-19, remote mental health care “check-ins and consultations” went from 40,000 in February to 154,000 in March, the article states.
Veterans Affairs officials quoted in the article said mental health appointments were conducted through online video chats with physicians and those increased from about 20,000 in February to 34,000 in March. The article said 2,700 online video group therapy appointments were conducted in March, a nearly 200 percent increase from the previous month.
The article also says VA officials have reported significant increases in veterans’ use of the Veterans Crisis Line, but not necessarily because of suicidal thoughts. Instead, numerous veterans and family members have called for information on existing resources or for help obtaining alternative mental health care programs.
The Centers for Disease Control also addresses the care of veterans during COVID-19.
On its website, the CDC says: “Veterans may experience worry or anxiety about their risk for contracting COVID-19 or about their ability to get recommended care. Fear or concern about the impact of COVID-19 on physical health and daily life may contribute to the onset of or worsen existing mental health problems. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic may increase stress for many service members and veterans making an already-challenging transition from military to civilian life because access to resources may be limited.”
Hohman agreed: “Right now, people are dying for human connection.”