Veterans & COVID-19
Information & Resources for California Veterans
Are you a California veteran facing issues during the pandemic? Following is a directory of resources and information that you may find helpful:
COVID-19 NEWS & INFORMATION FOR VETERANS
● COVID-19 Military Support Initiative. The Blue Star Families organization is partnering with the Association of Defense Communities to provide information, expertise and resources to military and veteran families.
● Military OneSource. The Department of Defense is coordinating with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide outbreak updates specifically for the military community.
VETERANS' FINANCIAL RESOURCES
Emergency Financial Assistance
- SERVICE RELIEF ORGANIZATIONS: Veterans in need of financial assistance may contact their respective military aid organizations for help with loans, grants or a combination of both. Each branch has its own group: Air Force Aid Society, Army Emergency Relief, Coast Guard Mutual Assistance and Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. All aid societies, except the Navy-Marine Corps, have an online application. All members of the Armed Services can also apply by phone for financial assistance – routed to their service branch relief society – through the American Red Cross.
- Wounded Warrior Project COVID-19 Relief Program. Project participants who registered before April 8 are able to apply for assistance if they are in financial hardship, including inability to pay for food, housing or utilities.
- A great resource page of the full financial benefits and resources available for veterans during COVID-19 can be found HERE.
Pay & Allowances
- How veterans who are non-filers in their taxes can still get their $1200 Coronavirus check.
- Disabled American Veterans is offering small $250 cash grants to those impacted by COVID.
- The DoD has authorized specific pay and allowances for servicemembers in a variety of situations. Those include people who have been ordered to self-isolate or monitor for COVID-19 but are unable to do so at home or at government facilities. Military families affected by the Stop Movement Order, which halts Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves and other military travel until May 11, may also be provided specific travel allowances. Check with your command to see if you’re eligible for Hardship Duty Pay or other additional allowances such as Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS), Family Separation Allowance (FSA-Restricted or FSA-Temporary), or per diem travel allowances that can provide you with additional financial support.
Rent & Mortgages
- A new federal law, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economy Security (CARES) Act, establishes protection for homeowners with federally backed mortgages —which includes loans guaranteed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or the Department of Agriculture . If you have a mortgage that isn’t backed by the federal government and can’t make your payments, your mortgage servicer or your state may be offering additional options. Learn more here about your mortgage options here.
- If you are a renter, you have protection from eviction; California has acted to prohibit landlords from evicting residents if they can’t pay rent.
Student Loans & GI Bill Benefits
- If you’re a service member with federally-held student loans, the CARES Act also automatically suspends principal and interest payments on federally-held loans through September 30, 2020. However, if you have private student loans or a federally-backed loan owned by a commercial lender or the institution or school you attended, you should contact your servicer if you can’t make your current loan payments. If your federal student loan is in default, be aware that involuntary collection activities like wage and benefits garnishments have been suspended during this period.
- A new law enables the VA to continue providing students with full GI Bill benefits, even as their academic programs move online. It permits the GI Bill program to continue paying benefits, including monthly housing allowances and living stipends, at existing rates for full-time students rather than reverting to lower rates for distance learning.
VETERANS' HEALTH-RELATED RESOURCES
o If you have symptoms of the virus — fever, cough or shortness of breath — have been in close contact with someone infected or traveled to an area with widespread or ongoing community spread of COVID-19, call your local VA facility and tell them how you are feeling and schedule a testing appointment. Alternatively, veterans can sign into My HealtheVet to send a secure message to the VA or use tele-health options such as VA Video Connect, to explain their condition and receive a prompt diagnosis.
o Tricare. The health care program for active-duty service members, military retirees and their families temporarily covers tele-health for applied behavior analysis, a therapy that focuses on improving specific actions, as well as parent or caregiver guidance services.
o Cohen Veterans Network. Free and virtual mental health services to those who live in California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Washington.
o Headstrong. Post-9/11 veterans and their families are offered free and confidential mental health treatment.
o Vets4Warriors. The military community, family members and caregivers can seek help from the confidential peer support network that operates 24 hours a day. This includes immediate, free and long-term peer support through private chat, email, phone and text conversations.
o MyHealthEVet. Veterans can sign in to send a secure message to their doctors. Other telehealth options include VA Video Connect, an app available for Macintosh and Windows computers as well as Android and Apple mobile devices, which allows them to explain their conditions and receive a prompt diagnosis.
o VA Caregiver Support. Caregivers can find specialized support and community connections through two programs. Local caregiver support coordinators can help you find services in your area, or call the Caregiver Support Line, 855-260-3274, to speak with a licensed professional.
o Vet Centers. Veterans, active-duty service members and their families can seek out Vet Centers, an extension of the VA medical centers nationwide. Individual, group, marriage and family counseling plus care coordination are available. Its call centers are always open at 877-927-8387.
HOW COVID-19 AFFECTS CALIFORNIA VETERANS
● As of April 27, nearly 7,000 of America’s veterans have tested positive for COVID-19 at Veterans Affairs facilities and 435 have died from the disease.1 The death rate at VA facilities is higher than the national average – suggesting we are potentially missing diagnosing a meaningful number of cases in veterans.2 Critics say the department is not doing enough to protect both veterans and workers and is being vague about supply shortages, death rates and other challenges in confronting the crisis.
● Additionally, more than 2,000 VA health care workers have been infected by the coronavirus, with 20 deaths.3 The VA refused to provide COVID-19 tests to VA employees who weren’t veterans. Roughly 123,000 of the 390,000 workers at the VA are veterans, meaning that the majority of the department’s workforce is made up of civilian employees who are not be eligible to be tested for COVID-19 at the hospitals and clinics where they work. Although the VA does not test non-veteran staff for the coronavirus, all VA employees are being screened for symptoms.4
● Some healthcare groups have been urging the VA to open up its military and veterans’ hospitals beyond to just veterans. They argue that “given that both the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs have postponed or canceled all non-emergency elective procedures and many clinical operations, …they currently have significant capacity in these facilities.”5
● Cuts to the United States Postal Service could impact veterans’ ability to get their medications. Thousands of veterans receive their needed medications from the VA monthly via the US Postal Service, which has never failed to deliver. President Trump’s targeting of the USPS budget for substantial cuts could threaten that stability for ex-servicemen and women.6
● Some veterans have had disproportionate lung damage from “burn pits” and are more susceptible to the negative effects of COVID-19. Veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars may be more vulnerable to coronavirus, given that deployed service members were frequently exposed on their bases to rancid fumes, posing a long-term health risk to their health. Exposed service members were likely to experience “reduced lung function or exacerbated chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, atherosclerosis, or other cardiopulmonary diseases,” all of which the sort of respiratory damage that might turn a case of coronavirus severe or deadly. . 7
● Veterans’ remote mental health appointments have skyrocketed amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote mental health care use among VA patients has jumped dramatically as normal medical care appointments were disrupted and veterans forced into self-isolation because of the ongoing pandemic. Most significant were mental health care check-ins and consultations conducted over the phone. In February, there were about 40,000 such appointments, but in March, they topped 154,000, a nearly four-fold increase.8
● The Bob Woodruff Foundation released a study finding that pandemic-related recession and isolation could hit veterans harder than the broader population.9 From the paper:
o Approximately 14% of employed veterans work in the five industries most likely to experience immediate layoffs due to the economic impact of COVID-19.
o Veterans with pre-existing mental health conditions are at increased risk for their symptoms worsening and developing new problems like substance misuse
● Fortunately, the CARES Act includes $20 billion in Coronavirus relief for veterans.10 Where that funding is going:
o $15.85 billion to the Veterans Health Administration, to cover treatment for veterans with COVID-19 at VA hospitals, civilian urgent care clinics and emergency rooms. The funds are to be used for overtime for staff, personal protective equipment, test kits and other resources.
o $3.1 billion to building infrastructure for veterans care, including equipping and staffing for temporary hospitals, clinics and mobile treatment centers, and remodeling existing facilities, including state-run veterans homes, to isolate and care for veterans with the highly contagious illness.
o The remaining funds are going to VA information technology networks to ensure they can handle the increase of tele-medicine services, and so veterans can remotely get the care they need through tele-health during the crisis.
● Roughly 25,000 veterans have also volunteered to return to the army in response to COVID. This was in response to the Army’s call for volunteers to assist with the COVID-19 response after the service sent emails to 800,000 former soldiers gauging their interest in returning to duty. The Army is still looking for more personnel, and although the preference is for those who are currently licensed in medical fields, other former soldiers can also volunteer.11
CALIFORNIA VETERANS: YOU SERVED US HONORABLY AND WELL, AND YOUR STATE GOVERNMENT SHOULD SERVE YOU JUST AS WELL IN RETURN.
Josh Newman has been motivated by public service throughout his entire life. After graduation from Yale University, he served as a United States Army officer. Following a post-service professional career in the Internet technology sector, he founded and served as Executive Director of ArmedForce2Workforce, an initiative to assist young veterans in the Greater Los Angeles in their pursuit of rewarding, career-oriented employment.
In 2016, Josh ran a successful grassroots campaign focused on a message of service, accountability, and common sense, winning election to the California State Senate, where he was active, accessible, and accountable, unafraid to put constituents over politics and working families ahead of corporate interests. During his tenure as State Senator, he authored legislation that championed veteran services, mental health resources, public education, job creation, and infrastructure improvements.
During the COVID-19 crisis, Josh Newman worked to make sure that our veterans had access to healthcare and food. He also fought to get food and protective equipment to local nurses and frontline workers.