COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - In an exclusive interview with WIS, United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie talked about the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the state’s veterans and the department’s staff.
He said, nationwide, they are experiencing an increase in the number of cases among veterans in their system, but hospitalization rates and deaths remain low. Secretary Wilkie said the VA has not been overrun with COVID-19 patients. According to the VA, 31,000 veterans in their system have tested positive for COVID-19. More than 23,000 veterans have recovered.
“We’re seeing the same trends. They’re not as dramatic as they are in the rest of America. We are very grateful for that. Our veterans have responded magnificently,” Wilkie said.
Wilkie credits this to the measures the department took when the COVID-19 pandemic started. He said they were one of the first nursing home systems in the country to stop visits. He said they also made the decision early on to stop elective procedures and have been relying on telehealth to get veterans the care they need if possible.
“We are ready for whatever comes at us in the fall and winter,” he said.
According to Wilkie, the system has not run out of personal protective equipment and they are in the process of stockpiling more for the fall.
The VA’s website shows that, as of Friday morning, more than 1,000 South Carolina veterans in their system have tested positive for COVID-19. Right now, there are 283 active cases and 16 veterans they serve have died to the virus. Right now, there are 38 cases among VA employees in S.C as well. The website shows one employee from the VA in South Carolina has died as well.
Wilkie said they are not letting their guard down.
“In South Carolina, we have nurses and doctors and gerontologists in State Veterans Homes assisting South Carolinians who are not part of our VA system.”
Secretary Wilkie said he expects the VA’s footprint to expand in South Carolina over the next few years.
“You will see more facilities. You will see more resources and people come into South Carolina to meet the demand of South Carolina veterans,” he said. “That population is growing just like the population of South Carolina in general.”