WASHINGTON – While VAMCs undertook a number of steps to respond to the increase in COVID-19 cases coming through their doors, the VA recognized the need to reach vulnerable and anxious veterans in their communities.
To expand outreach to these veterans during the pandemic, the VA began deployment of its mobile units in mid-March. The first units went to the hard-hit cities of New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Los Angeles.
“While all Americans are being instructed to limit their contact with others, our duty to protect the nation’s veterans has not ended,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Our Vet Center staff will help ensure we keep in contact with those veterans who need our care and attention and help reduce the anxiety some may be experiencing during this unique national emergency.”
The mobile units provide a wide range of counseling services and mental health support, particularly important for those experiencing extreme isolation as the nation observes social distancing. Unit staff can refer veterans and active duty servicemembers to care in the VA or in the community.
The mobile units are staffed by Vet Center employees who volunteer for the traveling centers.
“In times like this it’s important to stand shoulder to shoulder with our local communities, support their local needs and ensure them they are not alone in navigating this crisis,” said Brooklyn Vet Center Director Gabe Botero, who volunteered for five days in New York City.
In addition to the mobile units, the VA has expanded its telehealth offerings by phone and video. As part of the department’s recent request for an additional $16 billion to support its coronavirus response, the VA plans to add bandwidth to support its telehealth capabilities so more veterans can receive mental health and ongoing care for other issues from their homes.