Good morning, fellow quarantiners, it’s Wednesday, April 22, 2020.
A little dose of humor this morning: I was going to tell a time-traveling joke, but you guys didn’t like it.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Military Times: mseavey with “Remove” in the subject line. If you have received this from someone who forwarded it and would like to be added, email mseavey.
Leo Shane III | 8 hours ago
Veterans with dependents who did not receive their coronavirus stimulus payments must contact the Treasury Department by midday Wednesday or miss out on $500 or more until next spring.
The sudden deadline comes less than a week after Veterans Affairs leaders announced a deal to ensure that disabled veterans who typically do not file tax returns weren’t cut out of the stimulus program, which is distributing $1,200 per individual and $500 per dependent to offset unexpected expenses and income loss due to the ongoing pandemic.
Most individuals who filed tax returns last year received their payouts last week directly in bank accounts linked to those returns. But individuals who did not file returns — including some disabled veterans whose income doesn’t reach the level required for annual taxes — were excluded from those payouts despite being eligible.
Late last Friday, VA leaders said that they had reached a deal with Treasury officials to allow direct payments to those veterans through their existing department benefits accounts.
At the time, officials noted the $1,200 payments would be processed automatically, but individuals would need to file a claim through the Internal Revenue Service website to receive the additional $500 per dependent.
On Monday, Treasury officials announced that veterans would only accept those applications until April 22, giving veterans less than two full work days to submit the information.
In a statement, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that “if the IRS does not receive this essential information by Wednesday, their payment will be $1,200 and the $500 per child will be paid to them with a return filing for tax year 2020.”
That means veterans who are eligible for the extra money but do not register before the end of the day on Wednesday won’t receive their money until sometime in 2021, after the IRS begins processing those 2020 tax returns.
The news sent lawmakers and veterans groups scrambling to let veterans know about the potential for missed money.
No reason was given by Treasury officials for the deadline, which also applies to Social Security retirement beneficiaries, survivor or disability benefits recipients, and Railroad Retirement payees.
A statement on the IRS non-filers tool web site states that Social Security or Railroad Retirement Benefit recipients with dependents must register by noon Wednesday (April 22) to receive their payment this year. It’s unclear if veterans will face the same deadline, or if they will have until the end of the day.
Supplemental Security Income recipients will have additional time to file their claims.
The IRS site requires veterans to submit their names, Social Security numbers (including for spouse and dependents), mailing address and a bank routing number where the money can be sent.
VA officials have not made any public comments on the deadline.
Leo Shane III | 13 hours ago
Congress on Tuesday finalized a second GI Bill fix for student veterans whose studies were upended by the coronavirus pandemic, sending the package to the White House to be signed into law in coming days.
The measure follows legislation last month which guaranteed students would not see any disruption in their education benefit payouts because of universities’ sudden switch to online learning. Most colleges across the country have shifted to remote sessions in lieu of in-person classes in an effort to limit the spread of the virus.
Under previous rules, however, students who receive online-only education were not eligible for certain housing stipends. The emergency package allowed Veterans Affairs leadership to waive that restriction in light of the current emergency, guaranteeing students would not see any financial disruptions.
However, that legislation did not cover income lost from other sources, such as shuttered work study programs connected to the GI Bill.
The latest measure — passed by the House earlier this month and by unanimous consent in the Senate Tuesday — would keep those work study payments active through the remainder of the semester, even if students cannot reach their place of employment.
It will also make sure that, in light of the current emergency, students’ GI Bill housing payments will continue even if colleges fully close down. And veterans could see any of this semester’s lost entitlements restored if their institution closes down or if they are forced to withdraw from school for coronavirus-related issues.
Lawmakers hailed the passage as an important step in protecting veterans’ financial future.
“This fix builds on previous legislation passed and signed into law to make certain our student veterans can continue to receive payments that they normally would from their education and training programs during this pandemic without having to worry about losing the benefits that they have earned,” said Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
His House counterpart, Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., similarly praised the bipartisan action on the measure.
"As the nation faces the COVID-19 pandemic, no student veteran should have to worry about losing income from work study jobs, interrupting their studies, or unexpected bills when their schools close,” he said.
Veterans advocates welcomed the news.
"After talking to VA work-study students who were worried about being able to pay their bills and others who had to choose between working to feed their families or staying home to protect their families from unnecessary exposure to the coronavirus, we are thankful to the Senate for passing this,” said Tanya Ang, vice president of Veterans Education Success.
“This bill provides much needed relief for VA work-study allowing them the opportunity to focus on what matters most — the health of themselves and their families."
White House officials have not said when the legislation may be signed into law, but also have not offered any objections to the proposal.
By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: April 21, 2020
WASHINGTON — As a nurse, Dana Horton’s job is to keep patients alive — a task that has become more difficult as the coronavirus spreads and worsens in the United States.
“Nurses are experiencing something that we just haven’t ever experienced before in this country,” Horton said. “As a nurse, especially in acute care, you always want to do everything you can to preserve life. When it’s out of your control, that’s hard. And that’s what this has been — it’s out of control.”
Horton, 48, is a registered nurse at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Atlanta, where 109 patients have tested positive for the virus and six have died. Though coronavirus patients are coming into the Atlanta VA Medical Center, N95 respirator masks are given only to medical staff who are treating them, Horton said. Employees must go to a supervisor in order to get one.
Other staff members were instructed to wear surgical masks, which offer much less protection, she said.
The VA has authorized hospital directors to implement policies for medical staff to reuse masks or bring their own. Workers who are performing "low-risk care" on coronavirus patients can be instructed to use surgical masks if there aren’t enough N95 masks, according to a memo sent last week from Renee Oshinski to hospital leaders. Oshinski is the VA deputy undersecretary for health for operations and management.
The memo states that medical staff in community living centers, spinal cord injury and inpatient mental health units would be provided with one surgical mask each day.
"Current supply levels do not support providing a mask to all [VA] staff," Oshinski wrote.
Horton, who has worked as a nurse for 26 years and at the VA for 17, worries that the rationing of personal protective equipment is creating a dangerous environment for her and other medical workers. Because of the nature of the virus — and all of its unknowns — she worries that she could be treating coronavirus patients who haven’t yet tested positive.
“I don’t want to have it and don’t know that I have it, and then pass it on,” Horton said. “What would be the best way to prevent that? To have proper PPE — at least an N95 for every health care provider coming into contact with a patient.”
Horton, along with other nurses, protested between shifts Friday outside the Atlanta VA. The demonstration followed a similar protest at the Brooklyn VA several weeks ago. Both events were organized by National Nurses United, a union representing 185,000 nurses nationwide.
Another demonstration was planned for Wednesday at the Baltimore VA Medical Center by two other unions: the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Association of Government Employees. They’re protesting the lack of PPE, as well as limits on telework and hazard pay within the VA Maryland Health Care System, organizers said.
National Nurses United organized a gathering Tuesday in front of the White House. Standing on the street, medical staff held signs with the photos and names of health care workers who’ve died during the pandemic and demanded more protective equipment.
More than 9,000 health care workers in the United States are confirmed to have died from the coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Across the VA health care system, 19 employees have died and 1,708 have tested positive for the virus. At the Atlanta VA, 16 workers have tested positive. The VA facilities in New Orleans and the Bronx have the most cases among employees — 145 in New Orleans and 119 in the Bronx. Two employees at the Bronx VA have died. Other employee deaths were in Detroit and Ann Arbor, Mich.; Houston, Texas; Shreveport, La.; West Palm Beach, Fla.; Denver; Boston; Brooklyn and Northport, N.Y.; and Los Angeles. There were two in Indianapolis and three in Reno, Nev.
The VA said the number of employee cases proves that the department is keeping its workers safe. In a statement, VA Press Secretary Christina Noel said less than 1% of VA workers have tested positive for the virus, as opposed to the Henry Ford Health System in metro Detroit, where 2.1% of employees have contracted the virus.
“VA’s PPE practices are keeping veterans and employees safe during challenging times, and the numbers prove it,” Noel said in an email.
VA leaders have only recently acknowledged they’re short on personal protective equipment. Richard Stone, executive in charge of the VA health care system, said last week the pandemic had made it difficult to estimate its incoming supply of masks.
Lawmakers criticized the department this week for not giving them a detailed accounting of their supply or informing them of policies to ration masks.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie insisted in an interview with NPR on Tuesday that the department is following CDC guidelines. During the pandemic, the CDC has relaxed its guidelines for masks and allowed for workers to wear single-use masks for multiple days.
“That’s not a normal standard at any other time,” Horton said. “We should always take precautions, period.”
The Atlanta VA Medical Center was preparing to treat non-veteran patients if there’s a surge of cases in the area, Horton said. As of Tuesday, 5,599 VA patients nationwide had tested positive for the virus and 357 patients had died.
Military Times: Nearly 1,000 troops have recovered from COVID-19
Meghann Myers | 19 hours ago
As the Defense Department’s COVID-19 cases continue to rise, so too have the numbers of service members making a recovery.
Per DoD’s latest data, 990 troops are considered recovered, out of 3,496 reported cases since the first soldier tested positive in South Korea in late February.
Numbers for both populations could be much higher, however, as the military grapples with estimated rates of asymptomatic infection. Testing the entire crew of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt revealed that more than half of the coronavirus-positive sailors didn’t feel sick at all, forcing DoD to get serious about testing more than just those who feel unwell.
“Again, it’s only 5,000 people, but it is 5,000 people of a certain demographic,” Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Friday. “And that’s a very important data point to understand, because that is our data point as a military.”
The infection rate among troops now stands at 1,664-per-million, or 0.16 percent. In the U.S. population, those numbers are 2,283-per-million, or 0.22 percent. But the military’s generally young and healthy demographics put its death rate so low that it’s barely above zero statistically, while the U.S. rate has climbed to 5 percent.
For DoD overall, which also tracks civilians, dependents and contractors, the 22 COVID-19 fatalities means the death rate is 0.4 percent.
New diagnoses have slowed in the past two days, down to 79 on Sunday and 88 on Monday, compared to hundreds a day throughout the most of the month of April.
As of Tuesday there have been 5,575 cases overall, with 245 hospitalizations and 1,483 recoveries to date. Of 22 deaths, two have been service members, 10 civilians, three dependents and seven contractors.
Cases among troops rose less than 2 percent from Monday to Tuesday, from 3,438 to 3,496. So far, 79 have been hospitalized and 990 have recovered.
With 95-percent of TR sailors tested, the Navy’s total cases sit at 1,252, with more than 700 assigned to the carrier. The Army reported 841 cases, followed by the Air Force at 338, the Marine Corps at 253 and the National Guard at 682.
The civilian cases rose 8 percent, from 837 to 902, with 76 hospitalized and 212 recovered.
So far, 757 dependents have contracted coronavirus, up 8 percent since Monday, from 702 to 757, with 32 hospitalized and 201 recovered.
And among contractors, cases are at 420, with the biggest jump so far this week: 72 new cases since Monday, or a 23-percent jump, while 58 have been hospitalized and 80 have recovered.
By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: April 21, 2020
WASHINGTON — An anti-malaria drug repeatedly touted by President Donald Trump as a “game-changer” in the coronavirus pandemic didn’t work on patients recently treated by the Department of Veterans Affairs. There were more deaths among those patients who were given the drug, hydroxychloroquine, than patients who received standard care, researchers found.
Researchers analyzed the treatment of 368 male patients at VA hospitals nationwide who had died or been discharged as of April 11. About 28% of patients who received hydroxychloroquine died, compared with 11% of patients who received standard care. About 22% of patients died when they received hydroxychloroquine with azithromycin, which is used to treat bacterial infections.
Hydroxychloroquine had no effect on whether patients needed a ventilator, researchers found.
“In this study, we found no evidence that use of hydroxychloroquine, either with or without azithromycin, reduced the risk of mechanical ventilation in patients hospitalized with COVID-19,” the researchers wrote. “An association of increased overall mortality was identified in patients treated with hydroxychloroquine alone.”
The information they collected represents the largest data set in the world regarding coronavirus patients who’ve been treated with hydroxychloroquine. The drug is used for rheumatoid arthritis and lupus but is an unproven treatment for the coronavirus.
The study, paid for by the National Institutes of Health and University of Virginia, was posted online. It was submitted to the New England Journal of Medicine but has not yet been reviewed by other scientists, the Associated Press reported. It was conducted by scientists at the University of South Carolina and the University of Virginia, as well as the VA Health Care System in Columbia, S.C.
Late last month, the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency approval for doctors to use hydroxychloroquine to treat hospitalized coronavirus patients in certain instances. The researchers called for more rigorous studies before hospitals adopt it as a treatment for the virus.
“Despite limited and conflicting data on the use of hydroxychloroquine in patients with COVID-19, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized the emergency use of this drug when clinical trials are unavailable or infeasible,” they wrote. “These findings highlight the importance of awaiting the results of ongoing prospective, randomized, controlled studies before widespread adoption of these drugs.”
Some studies have suggested the drug was promising, especially for mild cases, but the studies were small and didn’t include control groups. One of the studies has since been discredited.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease doctor in the United States, said on Fox News this month it would be a “majestic leap” to consider hydroxychloroquine a miracle cure.
The public spotlight on the drug has led to its “soaring” use to fight the coronavirus and stockpiling by the U.S. and other countries, the researchers said.
The VA placed emergency orders for hydroxychloroquine on March 26 and April 1, buying $208,000 worth. The VA said most of the supply would be used to treat non-coronavirus conditions.
“The bulk of this order will be used for those purposes,” said VA Press Secretary Christina Noel. “VA is only using hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 in cases where veteran patients and their providers determine it is medically necessary.”
The researchers didn’t list any side effects for the drug but indicated it might have damaged other vital organs.
Its known side effects are diarrhea, nausea, skin rash and stomach pain, and it’s not safe for people who have heart abnormalities, certain eye diseases or liver or kidney disease. The presidents of the American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology and the Heart Rhythm Society published a paper this month, warning the drug can cause dangerous disruptions in heart rhythm.