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Veterans and COVID-19

In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there are many questions about what the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and its medical facilities are doing to protect and care for veterans during the outbreak. Since this situation is evolving rapidly, veterans and their families are encouraged to consult the VA’s Website for the most current information. Guidance from local VA medical facilities about their current operating status is available on each facility’s website, which can be found via the VA’s Facility Locator Tool.

 

What should veterans do if they think they have COVID-19?

Before visiting local VA medical facilities, community providers, urgent care centers, or emergency departments in their communities, veterans experiencing COVID-19 symptoms — such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath — are encouraged to call their VA medical facility or call MyVA311 (844-698-2311, press #3 to be connected).

Veterans can also send secure messages to their health care providers via MyhealtheVet, VA’s online patient portal. VA clinicians will evaluate veterans’ symptoms and direct them to the most appropriate providers for further evaluation and treatment. This may include referral to state or local health departments for COVID-19 testing. Testing is based on many factors, including the severity of symptoms, other existing illnesses or conditions, possible exposure, and other criteria. VA health facilities have been testing Veterans who meet the testing criteria provided by the CDC. There’s no charge for testing.

 

What about routine appointments and previously scheduled procedures?

VA is encouraging all veterans to call their VA facility before seeking any care — even previously scheduled medical visits, mental health appointments, or surgical procedures. Veterans can also send secure messages to their health care providers via MyhealtheVet and find out whether they should still come in for their scheduled appointments.

VA providers may arrange to convert appointments to Video Visits, where possible and veterans should feel free to request telehealth appointments from their VA providers. Once your provider schedules a telehealth appointment, you’ll receive a VA Video Connect link (or another approved video meeting tool). Learn more about VA Video Connect.

Can visitors still access VA medical facilities?

Many VA medical facilities have cancelled public events for the time being, and VA is urging all visitors who do not feel well to postpone their visits to local VA medical facilities. Facilities have also been directed to limit the number of entrances through which visitors can enter. Upon arrival, all patients, visitors, and employees will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and possible exposure.

VA Announced that its 134 nursing homes (also called VA community living centers) and 24 spinal cord injury and disorder centers would be closed to all outside visitors. All clinical staff will be screened for COVID-19 daily before entering the nursing home or spinal cord injury units, and staff will work only within those units to limit possible transmission of the virus. Exceptions to the visitor policy will only be made for cases when veterans are in their last stages of life on hospice units or inpatient spinal cord injury units. 

Are VA regional offices closed?

The VA has temporarily closed all of their 56 regional offices for in-person visits, following current CDC guidelines to prevent community spread.

The regional office staff are still available by phone and by video conferencing tools like VA Video Connect (or other approved video meeting tools). They are continuing to support services like educational counseling, collecting information for fiduciary claims, and other assistance by phone or video.

To call your regional office for help with benefits or to request a video appointment, call 800-827-1000 toll-free.

To check on the status of your claim or appeal, use the online claim status tool.

For other benefit questions, you can also send your question to the online customer service tool called IRIS (Inquiry Routing & Information System)

How can I stay updated on regional office closures or service interruptions?

For the latest status of regional offices and other benefit services, you can:

 

How is VA supporting those impacted by intimate partner violence (IPV)?

Crises that disrupt daily life – such as the COVID-19 pandemic – can interrupt access to key services, including resources for those experiencing intimate partner violence (IPV). VA’s Intimate Partner Violence Assistance Program (IPVAP) has Coordinators in VA facilities available for support for those using or experiencing intimate partner violence. For more resources and information about VA’s IPVAP, visit their Website.

Visit VA’s Frequently Asked Questions Page for more information on what veterans need to know about seeking care at VA facilities during this time.

My school changed all classes to online. Will I still qualify for my GI Bill benefits?

Yes. If you’re currently receiving GI Bill benefits, payments will continue automatically. You don’t have to do anything.

Many schools have changed to online classes in response to COVID-19. On March 19, the House passed legislation ensuring student veterans will receive waivers for classes changing to completely online instruction because of COVID-19.

Even though students may be forced to switch to online classes, which under normal circumstances would lower the amount they receive for their monthly housing allowance, student veterans will now be able to maintain their current monthly housing allowance rate under this legislation.

If you have specific questions, you can contact the Education Call Center toll-free at 888-442-4551, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. ET.

For information for student veterans, see this website. 

 

What should I do if I need to refill or renew my prescription?

If you currently get your prescription sent to you by mail, you’ll continue to receive your refills as normal. If you usually pick up your prescription in person, use one of these other ways to get your medicine refilled or renewed. 

To make sure you have your medicine in time, request your refill or renewal at least 10 days before you’ll run out of your current prescription.

  • Online. Use this online prescription refill and tracking tool to refill or renew your prescription.

  • By phone. The phone number of your VA pharmacy is on your prescription label. To renew or refill by phone, have your RX number on the prescription label and your Social Security number ready. For many prescriptions that are no longer refillable, this automated phone line may allow you to send a request for more of this medication to be sent to you. For some medications, your health care team may contact you first.

  • By mail. To refill by mail, complete the prescription refill form for each medication, and mail it to your VA pharmacy. The pharmacy address is listed on paperwork that came with your prescription.

For questions about your prescriptions, send a secure message to your provider through My HealtheVet or call your local VA medical center. 

Will my benefit payments be affected because of COVID-19?

The VA is currently processing all benefit payments as normal. Benefit payments include payments for disability, pension, education payments to your school, and more.  

View your VA benefit payments online.

 

Lone Star Legal Aid has created the following video on veterans benefits and public benefits during this crisis:

 

Resources for veterans in crisis

Help is available for veterans in crisis by calling the Veteran Crisis Line at 1 (800) 273-8255 and pressing 1, at VeteransCrisisLine.Net/Chat, or by texting 838255.

Additional resources are available on the CDC's Website – including information regarding caring for children, school and work closures, and protecting yourself and your community.

Caregivers with additional concerns about caring for veterans during this time can find support and resources at Hidden Heroes.

The COVID-19 Emergency Financial Relief Program was created to provide financial assistance to all Veterans, Active Duty, Reserves and National Guard who are experiencing a financial setback due to the negative economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Foundation is prioritizing assistance to those who have lost their primary/only income or have an increased financial burden as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The grant amount will support 1 month of payment up to $1500 in the following areas (rent, mortgage, auto loan, utilities).

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has additional resources for veterans and their families here.