The coronavirus pandemic has changed normal life as we know it: From mandatory mask requirements and social distancing measures to periods of self-isolation and limited interactions with others.
So how have vulnerable populations like military veterans been affected by the pandemic?
Do they feel neglected by their country, their community?
Charlie Foster, director of office of student veteran engagement at William & Mary, asked students at the student veteran organization meeting on Monday via Zoom ––their last meeting of the semester — how they have been affected by pandemic.
There are currently 294 self-reported military and veteran students enrolled in the fall semester at W&M, including undergraduate, graduate students and those on active duty.
But only 55, mostly undergraduates and a couple PhD students, are actually involved in the student veteran organization chapter save for the business and law school student veteran groups, Foster said.
Foster said they told him “no more than usual” but admitted the coronavirus pandemic is a hard time for the country and understand the priority right now is dealing with the virus.
Another student said their older neighbor recently died of suicide and felt isolation played a part in his death.
“The thing about the veteran population instead of just lamenting something is happening, they try to take action,” Foster said. “So even at a time when there is isolation, they’ll try to come up with idea on how to see each other.”
Foster, a Marine veteran who worked as a combat correspondent, said they recently partnered with Vetshouse Inc., a local nonprofit, to raise money for homeless veterans — they are also participating in the Ivy League Veterans Council Semper Fi Fund Run on Friday to raise money for combat-wounded service members and their families from every military service branch.
In terms of health care services, the student veterans told Foster while there has a been a “backup” in their appointments at the Veterans Affairs hospital — with some appointments rescheduled to a later date and others switched from in-person visits to phone calls — the veterans are understanding of the changes because of the pandemic.
He noted some veterans had left messages with the VA “which were unanswered” but they have also received “wonderful treatment,” too.
Veterans who are struggling and come to Foster for help have “a lot of options” and are referred to resources like the W&M’s counseling center, health center, the Virginia Department of Veterans Services and the VA.
Foster said he will continue to have office hours through the rest of the month but since the spring semester, his appointments with student veterans have decreased, something he attributes to “Zoom burnout.”
“The students do a lot of classes via Zoom, a lot of meetings… and sometimes meet with their families via Zoom,” he said.
“I do say I get the same number of emails,” he added with a laugh.
Other aspects of the coronavirus pandemic, such as wearing masks, social isolation and social distancing in public, may seem unfamiliar to most people, but Foster said the student veterans are actually familiar with these type of protocols.
For example, a lot of military members have taken online classes during their service to help them get promoted, and it might be easier for some veterans who had to wear a “cover” or “gas mask” for their training.
But the student veterans do miss seeing each other.
“They’re a really social group — they’re funny,” Foster said. “They miss that part of meeting in person.”
On Veterans Day, the student veterans will meets in-person to ring the bell at the Wren building at 11 a.m. in honor of Armistice Day, the original Veterans Day, Foster said.
In addition to thanking veterans for their services, Foster said the day is a great opportunity for people to reach out to military personnel and veterans to let them know others are thinking about them.
“I love the idea of people listening to veteran stories on Veterans Day,” Foster said. “But I also think that hearing these stories is a way to get to know people a little better.”
WYDaily also reached out to representatives at a local office for the Virginia Department of Veterans Services. They were unavailable for comment.
But on a national scale, the VA claims to be working with the CDC and other federal organizations to monitor the outbreak.
“VA has implemented an aggressive public health response to protect and care for Veterans, their families, health care providers, and staff in the face of this emerging health risk,” according a statement on the VA website.
While physical health has been a main focus for a long time in both personal health and times of a viral outbreak, the VA also has resources, information, and treatment options concerning mental health. To learn more about how the VA can help with mental health during the pandemic, click here.
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