VA says it will care for any and all veterans, as number of infected swells to 3,000

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As the number of veterans infected with COVID-19 continues to swell, the Department of Veterans Affairs says it will care for any and all veterans, even if they are not yet enrolled in VA health care. 

More than 3,000 veterans have now tested positive for the coronavirus, according to VA data released April 7. 

At least 144 veterans have died of the virus, the data shows, up 19 from a day prior. 

New Orleans continues to be the area most affected for veterans, with 395 veterans testing positive, including 40 being treated in the hospital and 355 outpatient, making up more than 13 percent of all VA cases.

New York and New Jersey also have been hard hit by the virus among vets. 

On Monday, VA released data that showed, for the first time, a veteran younger than 50 died of the virus. VA is releasing little information about the deaths it has recorded so far, but it did say the veterans was in their 40s and died at the New Orleans VA. 

VA has administered more than 28,275 COVID-19 tests nationwide as of April 7, the department said on its website. 

On social media Tuesday, the Veterans Health Administration said VA "will see and treat any veteran -- even if you are not yet enrolled in VA health care," but asked that veterans call first to protect against further virus spread. 

It was not immediately clear what VHA's definition of "veteran" is. 

"For many of you that are in communities that may not get all of your health care from us -- that go to community physicians -- some of your community physicians are not available," VHA head Dr. Richard Stone said in a statement. "We want you to call us. Even if you haven’t come in to get care from us for the condition you’re concerned about, call us. We’re here. We will continue to be here every day ... For those veterans that haven't enrolled in care yet: if you are in need of care, come in and see us. Call us first, but come in and see us and we’ll work on your enrollment after we take care of your acute health care need." 

Stone said the coronavirus crisis can create anxiety, and VHA is aiming to reduce that anxiety "by making sure you know that across this nation, that we are here for every veteran that needs us." 

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie on Sunday announced plans to open 1,500 beds for non-veteran coronavirus patients at its hospitals in New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, Michigan and Massachusetts. 

VA cares for more than 9 million veterans, about half of which are older than 65 -- a population at higher risk for the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 

Experts say veterans who experienced toxic exposures during service also could be at higher risk for the virus, including burn pits and other exposures during the Gulf War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

VA has a guide for veterans on coronavirus, which includes the request that veterans who believe they are ill should call their local VA before they show up to the hospital.

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Reach Abbie Bennett: or @AbbieRBennett.
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