Good morning my fellow non-essential quarantiners today is Tuesday, April 21, 2020 which is the day after is Cheddar Fries Day and National Look Alike Day as our Wisconsin contingent reminded me after the fact.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
= W.B. Yeats
Weird facts for today….
- Taco Bell was named after its owner, Glen Bell.
- The inventor of Pringles is buried in a Pringles can.
- Riding roller coasters can help you pass kidney stones.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Stripes: Most National Guard troops deployed in fight against the coronavirus now on federal orders
- Military Times: The military continues to diagnose more than 100 new COVID-19 cases a day
- Vantage Point: VA Voluntary Service Celebrates more than 60,000 Volunteers
- Military Times: Initiative opens medical records from tens of thousands of outside clinics to DOD, VA physicians
- WUSF: Coronavirus Creates Challenges For Student Veterans
- Stripes: Outcry continues over masks for VA workers; patient deaths rise 13%
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By ROSE L. THAYER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 20, 2020
For weeks, National Guard members have stood on the front lines of the coronavirus fight — and now the majority of the 36,750 troops deployed in every state and U.S. territory are working under a federal status that offers more benefits and military health coverage.
As of Monday, about 28,700 Guard members deployed within 38 states, three territories and Washington, D.C., are approved for federal funds known as Title 32, according to information from the National Guard Bureau. It provides governors federal funding for troops while maintaining state control of missions and allows troops to gain further benefits and protections such as worker’s compensation, a death gratuity, GI Bill accrual, retirement points, Tricare health coverage and a housing allowance.
Guard missions in the fight against the pandemic include going into nursing homes to test patients and staff, collecting the dead alongside local mortuary services and working drive-thru testing sites where thousands of Americans are swabbed to check for the virus while sitting in their vehicles, according to the bureau. Others work in warehouses vital to getting food and supplies out to where they are needed most, answer phones that provide medical information and work alongside civilian industry partners to manufacture personal protective equipment. West Virginia even has enlisted the Guard’s help in processing unemployment claims.
In Broomall, Pa., 18 of about 1,000 members activated with the Pennsylvania National Guard began filling personnel shortages Saturday at the Broomall Rehabilitation and Nursing Center. The military nurses and medics are working alongside civilians in 12-hour shifts to provide routine care to nonacute patients.
“It’s something that we train for all the time, we’re ready, we have the equipment and the experience and I’m pretty sure that is why we were tasked to do this mission,” said Maj. Thomas Wagner, a nurse with the 193rd Special Operations Wing.
A team of 30 Wisconsin National Guard members entered the Milwaukee County House of Corrections to test collected specimens from about 950 staff and inmates. Another dozen of the 450 troops in the state are serving as medical and administrative staff at state-run, self-isolation facilities.
Illinois troops also are going into prisons, but to augment medical staff and to help separate prisoners who could have contracted coronavirus. Others of the more than 650 National Guard members activated are providing mortuary support to Cook County, home to Chicago.
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The National Guard Association, an advocacy group for the service, continually has called for better medical support and protections for troops activated in response to the pandemic. First, it was to get troops onto federal orders. Later, they worked to ensure those orders were for more than 30 days, which is the required time for National Guard members to get Tricare for themselves and their families, as well as an allowance for housing. Last week, retired Brig. Gen. J. Roy Robinson, the association’s president, wrote to Matthew Donovan, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, to ask the Pentagon for a “preemptive determination” to make transitional Tricare available to Guard members once they leave Title 32 active duty. Similarly to when Guard members return from overseas deployments, it would ensure troops can keep the health insurance for six months to help with any possible post-deployment concerns.
“Given the fact that these servicemembers are being deployed to a health emergency, with the risk of contracting [coronavirus], providing transitional health care as they demobilize is prudent,” Robinson wrote. “Soldiers and airmen exposed to this virus deserve health care coverage for themselves and their families to ensure continuous protections in the event that they contract the illness.”
The Pentagon reported Monday that 672 National Guard members have tested positive for coronavirus, though it does not delineate between troops who are activated and ones who are not. Across all military branches, 3,438 service members have tested positive.
15 hours ago
It’s been over a month since the Defense Department instituted a travel ban and issued new policy requiring social distancing wherever possible throughout the force, but the spread of coronavirus among troops continues unabated.
Since late April, the services have averaged between 100 and 200 new cases daily among service members. The most recent count, according to DoD’s data, shows 3,438 cases, up from 2,986 on Friday.
The infection rate among service members stands at 1,637-per-million as of Monday, compared with the overall U.S. rate of 2,283-per-million. With 22 deaths so far, DoD’s death rate is at 0.4 percent versus the overall U.S. rate of 5 percent.
Senior Defense officials have acknowledged that asymptomatic carriers could mean hundreds or thousands of unknown COVID-19 cases among the ranks, prompting a new push for more thorough testing.
“From a military perspective, we have to figure out how to use testing in ways to validate the readiness of our forces to deploy,” Air Force Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Friday. “Testing is going to become a critical part of that.”
Nowhere has that concern more starkly come to life than on the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, which has been pierside in Guam for more than three weeks. According to the Navy’s latest count, about 95 percent of the ship’s crew had been tested for COVID-19, with 678 positives.
More than half of those have either been asymptomatic or developed symptoms after testing, Hyten said. In other cases, sailors who originally tested negative were re-tested and found positive after developing symptoms.
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DoD’s labs are able to test about 9,000 samples a day currently, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters Tuesday, but the department wants to grow that several times over.
“We’ve got an objective here of ramping that up to about 60,000 tests in about 45 days or so,” Army Gen. Mark Milley, the Joint Chiefs chairman, said.
It will be months before the military can test all of its personnel, but it’s starting with a few key units.
More widespread testing, especially for deploying units and new recruits, would help the services get a handle on the virus’ spread.
As of Monday, the Navy is still far outpacing the other services in its diagnosed cases, thanks to thorough testing aboard TR. In total, they have 1,240 cases, up 22 percent over the weekend, from 1,017.
The Army is next, with 819 cases, up 13 percent from 726 on Friday. The Air Force added two cases over the weekend, coming to 330, while the Marine Corps added 14, for a total of 250.
The National Guard, which has mobilized tens of thousands of airmen and soldiers in support of local pandemic response efforts, has 672 cases as of Monday morning. Those grew 10 percent over the weekend, from 609.
Of those troops, 97 total have been hospitalized, while 859 have recovered.
So far, service members make up two of DoD’s overall deaths: a New Jersey Army National Guard soldier and a chief who had been part of the TR outbreak.
The remaining 17 deaths have back civilians, dependents and contractors ― 10, 3 and 7, respectively.
As of Monday, 837 civilians have tested positive for COVID-19, and that number has stayed level still Friday, with 204 recoveries so far; among dependents, there have been 702 cases, up 4 percent over the weekend from 675, with 161 recoveries; and among contractors, there are 358 cases, with seven new cases over the weekend, including 80 recoveries.
National Volunteer Week is April 19-25, 2020. The week recognizes those who donate their time, talents and resources to support VA in it’s mission to care for Veterans. VA Voluntary Service celebrates this special group of more than 60,000 volunteers who served more than 9.2 million hours in fiscal year 2019.
“VA would like to extend a huge thank you to the diverse group of people that make up the VA Voluntary Service ranks, as well as the more than 7,400 community organizations that support VA in its mission to care for Veterans, their families and caregivers,” said Sabrina Clark, director of Voluntary Service.
Unfortunately, the current health crisis has forced VA facilities to postpone their annual volunteer recognition and awards banquets. Many of these dedicated individuals can’t volunteer inside VA hospitals right now.
VA’s COVID-19 response has required all but the most essential assignments to be suspended for the safety of patients, staff and volunteers. Nonetheless, VA volunteers’ commitment to supporting Veterans has never waned.
COVID-19 has been a shared traumatic experience for the United Sates and the entire world. In times of crisis, VA tends to fare better than most not only because of dedicated staff of heath care workers, but also its best-kept secret — VA Volunteers.
VA Voluntary Service leverages 61,000 volunteers and hundreds of community partners. This includes Veterans service organizations as well as civic, academic, nonprofit and corporate groups, to supplement care and services for Veterans. While the amount of volunteer hours accumulated each year is astounding, their support also is demonstrated through generous contributions. In fiscal year 2019 alone, VA received more than $99 million in monetary and in-kind donations.
VA volunteers remain hard at work informing their local communities about the ongoing ways to provide support.
- Phone and phone cards for homeless Veterans to make sure that they can stay in contact with their VA coordinators
- Non-perishable food items for VA food pantries
- Gift cards to grocery stores
- UBER/LYFT transportation
- Puzzles, games, playing cards, adult coloring books and pencils to keep Veteran patients and community living center residents actively engaged
- iPads and Facebook portals to help our staff connect Veterans with their families
“VA takes great pride in knowing that there is a dedicated support network of volunteers,” Clark said. “They never forget the service and sacrifice of America’s Veterans.
To contribute to the needs of Veterans at VA facilities today, please contact the VA Voluntary Service office at your local VA medical center. You also can visit https://www.volunteer.va.gov/apps/VolunteerNow/.
As the country celebrates National Volunteer Week, there is no better time to join the VA Voluntary Service family.
12 hours ago
At a time when patient’s complete medical history could play a key role in their survival, Defense Department and Veterans Affairs leaders announced a new technology breakthrough in their health care infrastructure allowing quicker sharing of appointments and medical notes among their departments and private-sector clinics. Federal officials on Monday unveiled a new joint medical information exchange system for the two departments, giving VA and DOD physicians access to a pool of more than 54,000 outside hospitals, health clinics, pharmacies and laboratories.
The work is part of ongoing efforts by the military and VA bureaucracies to modernize their electronic health systems into a single, shared record that can follow individuals through their service careers and into their civilian lives.
Completion of this phase of the work comes amid the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, which has already sickened more than 10,000 patients in VA care and Defense Department personnel. “Now, if someone has testing for COVID-19 in VA this week but then presents new symptoms at a private facility next week, both providers will be able to see all that information in real time,” said Dr. Neil Evans, the interim director of the Federal Electronic Health Record Modernization program office.
“They can see their past surgical history or other medical issues. And having more health care data allows providers to make better health care decisions.”
Both the Defense Department and VA have already been sharing some of that medical information with outside providers in the past, through separate agreements. The new arrangement opens the two separate pools to both federal departments, and should allow for easier partnerships in the future.
Patients and physicians won’t see any changes in their files, since the new agreement doesn’t require any new software installations or additional training.
But Evans said having the additional past medical information available should make for better appointments and diagnoses, especially at a time when patients’ spouses or caregivers may have limited access to doctors during counseling sessions.
VA officials announced last month they would put health records modernization efforts on hold during the coronavirus outbreak response. Defense officials shut down some work as well, but most of that involves training and site visits.
Work on the health information exchange system, however, was mostly technical and not disrupted by the pandemic response.
Planned modernization of DoD and VA systems may expand the opportunity for beneficiaries to use commercial apps. But it won’t be easy.
Travis Dalton, president of Cerner Government Services — which is working with both departments on their health record upgrades — said that the latest announcement is “a monumental step forward” for the work.
“(It is) enabling a seamless, secure exchange of health data between the departments and an extended network of community partners,” he said. “Clinicians will have the right data at the right time to make more informed medical decisions, enabling better health outcomes for our veterans, service members and their families.”
In accordance with federal medical information rules, patients can opt out of the information sharing.
By Stephanie Colombini • 22 hours ago
The transition from classroom to virtual learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for many student veterans, and the worries may not end with the spring semester. Marine Corps veteran Travis Holt, 40, is getting ready to wrap up his first year in a master’s program for social work at the University of South Florida in Tampa. He summed up the virtual college experience he has had since March bluntly:
"It’s been a nightmare,” he said. “I didn’t sign up to do online schooling; I’m a classroom guy, I’m kind of an old school-type guy."
Holt’s discomfort learning on a screen is worsened by the fact that he lives in Crystal River, a rural part of Florida where he said internet access isn’t great on a good day, let alone during this pandemic when most people are home trying to use it.
Now Holt works out of a makeshift office in his spare bedroom and said he struggles to get assignments done with a bad connection.
On top of that, he is an intern and program coordinator at the nonprofit Veterans Alternative, and is a husband and father to a 5-year-old daughter who is also attending school from home now.
"Just being a combat veteran and the trauma I’ve experienced and then going to school – that’s a lot, period,” he said. “Then you throw in all of this COVID-19 madness and it’s like this is insane right now, like my life is insane right now."
Students struggling financially
Holt isn’t alone in feeling stressed by the disruptions. A recent survey from Student Veterans of America found about 90 percent of respondents say they’re concerned COVID-19 will affect their education goals.
The survey was conducted the same week Congress passed a law to protect GI Bill benefits as schools switched to online learning. But SVA Chief of Staff William Hubbard said many student veterans are still under financial strain.
"A lot of these students are adults, they’ve got financial obligations, families to pay for, and that’s not really what the GI Bill is set up to cover the cost of," he explained.
As of mid-March, one-third of survey respondents had lost jobs or were working less hours. More than 20 percent said they were concerned about buying groceries for their families and paying their mortgage or rent. Those numbers have likely gone up as more stay-at-home orders were implemented across the country.
Hubbard said he is also worried about graduating students who will enter a job market turned upside down by the coronavirus. He said SVA is making economic issues a priority.
"The key to that is really helping our student veterans figure out what their opportunities are in this new environment that we’re all working in,” he said.
Hubbard said SVA is partnering with the Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and job recruiting sites to host a virtual economic opportunity summit for vets. The group continues to promote jobs at veteran-friendly companies on its website.
Knowing they’re not alone
He said SVA’s other priority is preserving camaraderie among students unable to gather in-person at their local chapter meetings or campus vet centers.
"We’re focused on developing different opportunities so they can stay connected to that community and avoid feeling a sense of isolation," Hubbard said, citing virtual meetings and volunteer work as examples.
Student veteran Travis Holt is also trying to create community through his role at Veterans Alternative. He recently hosted a video chat session for vets to vent frustrations and share tips with one another about coping with online learning.
Holt heard from other parents struggling to get their work done while they take care of their kids, so he hosted another session specifically on that issue. He said he is no expert but felt it was important to create a forum where people could talk about issues they’re enduring.
“Sometimes just knowing you’re not the only one going through it is helpful,” he said.
Another concern a veteran raised during the video chat on online learning was feeling guilty about reaching out to their school for help.
Many schools, like the University of South Florida, are extending withdrawal deadlines and allowing students to opt for their classes to be pass/fail as opposed to traditional grades that would affect their GPA as a way to mitigate COVID-19’s potential damage to their academic performance.
Holt said he’s lucky to have understanding professors and encourages vets to communicate with their teachers if they need assistance as finals approach and summer courses begin.
“It can be hard to reach out and ask for help and admit that you’re overwhelmed, but it’s worth it," he said. It’s important and it’s part of taking care of yourself.”
Most colleges and universities are already planning to host their summer programs virtually while some have cancelled them.
Holt is taking the summer off to spend time with his family. He tries not to worry about whether the coronavirus could force universities to remain online-only in the fall, saying student vets need to focus on the things they can control right now.
This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 20, 2020
WASHINGTON – The chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs said Monday he was “very concerned” about the Department of Veterans Affairs workforce during the coronavirus pandemic, as patient deaths rise 13% over the weekend.
“If the VA workforce gets sick, if they catch the virus in great numbers, that’s going to imperil their ability to help our veterans. That’s the bottom line,” Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., said Monday morning on C-SPAN.
As of Friday, 1,708 employees at VA medical centers tested positive for the virus, and 17 had died. Of the 17 who died, 5 worked directly with patients, the VA said.
On Monday morning, the VA reported 339 of its patients had died of the coronavirus, and 5,476 patients tested positive.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration initiated an investigation into the VA and employees’ exposure to the virus after receiving complaints from the American Federation of Government Employees, a federal union representing hundreds of thousands of VA workers. The union claimed the VA created unsafe working environments by not providing enough masks to front-line workers.
Nurses at the VA hospitals in Brooklyn and Atlanta have gathered between shifts to protest their lack of PPE.
Five Senate Democrats sent a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie on Monday, asking for specifics about the department’s stockpile of masks and any guidance they’re sending to workers about rationing the supply.
“We have … heard from a number of our constituents who are employees at VA facilities, who think they are not being provided adequate PPE in their jobs and fear for their personal health and safety,” the senators wrote. “Employees report being asked to use one N95 mask for up to a week, which manufacturers recommend be changed each shift at a minimum.”
U.S. Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va. ; Tim Kaine, D-Va. ; Michael Bennet, D-Colo. ; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; and Jack Reed, D-R.I., signed the letter.
Their letter followed one from the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs last week. Lawmakers, including Takano, wrote to the White House Coronavirus Task Force, saying the VA had refused to share documents with Congress that give an official count of its PPE supply.
Takano is still fighting for that information, he said Monday.
The VA “tells me they have a two-week supply or an 18-day supply, but they won’t give me actual numbers,” Takano said on C-SPAN. “Don’t describe in terms of how many days of supply you have. Just tell me how much you have and what is the burn rate. These are things you should know.”
Despite outcry from front-line employees and lawmakers, the VA has publicly insisted its hospitals had an adequate supply of protective equipment and was following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding the use of masks. During the pandemic, the CDC has allowed for workers to wear single-use masks for multiple days.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Friday, Wilkie acknowledged for the first time that the department doesn’t have an optimal supply of masks.
Richard Stone, executive in charge of the VA health care system, also acknowledged a supply shortage. In an email to employees last week, Stone said the pandemic made it difficult to estimate its incoming supply of masks.
The department began rationing masks at the start of the pandemic and gave one mask each week to medical staff not working directly with coronavirus patients, he said. In the email, Stone wrote that the VA now had “full visibility of our supply chain” and would shift to giving those employees one mask each day.
“So, all employees in a community living center, spinal cord injury unit or inpatient mental health unit will receive one mask a day to support their duties,” Stone wrote. “Your safety is the most important thing to us – we need to protect you.”
Leaders with the American Federation of Government Employees said they were encouraged by the decision but remained skeptical.
“Let’s not forget that the VA has been claiming throughout this pandemic that our members on the front lines have the PPE they need,” said union president Everette Kelley. “Beginning to change course, admit the issues and address the problem with a policy change is a good start from the agency, but our members on the ground need to actually get the PPE in their hands.”