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VA Secretary Visits SLC, Thanks Health Care Workers Caring for Vets During Pandemic

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – COVID-19 has taken a toll on America’s military veterans with more than 3,000 killed by complications related to the coronavirus. On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie was in Salt Lake City to talk about their efforts and thank workers throughout the health care system.

Wilkie toured the Salt Lake City VA Healthcare System along with Senator Mitt Romney. Twenty-one veterans have died at the facility since the beginning of the pandemic, and Wilkie said all workers there have stepped up.

“My mission was to thank workers at all levels, from the canteen to the leadership,” said Wilkie. “They have stepped forward during these incredibly trying times.”

Wilkie thanked them for their care for veterans here and also saluted VA workers from Salt Lake, who have been deployed to the Gulf Coast and the Pacific Northwest to help veterans in those regions.

“The adaptability and the agility of the people at this facility is a testament to the oaths that they take to serve others,” he said.

“He’s expressed appreciation to each of the people who works in this extraordinary facility,” said Romney.

Nationally, the VA has diagnosed more than 62,998 cases of COVID-19 since March, with 3682 deaths. That’s about twice the number of cases and deaths since mid-July. 

“We have seen a spike in terms of infections, but we have not seen a spike in terms of hospitalizations,” Wilkie said.

The VA has diagnosed 328 COVID-19 cases in Utah since March. Of those cases, 49 were considered active as of Tuesday, and 21 veterans have died.

This year, the Salt Lake City VA has doubled its ability to reach out to rural veterans in the region through telehealth.

“This is the epicenter,” said Wilkie. “This is where we are training VA employees from across the country to reach their fellow veterans through telehealth.”

It has expanded the VA’s ability to reach more veterans.

“And get the kind of care that would only be available if they were to get in a car and drive a long distance,” said Romney.  “They’re able to do that now on a tele-basis, and that’s more than doubled in Utah over the last year.”

“We’re using this as an example for the rest of the country,” Wilkie added.

He added the VA has hired 40,000 people nationwide in the last three months to handle their expanding needs due to COVID-19. 

He said the system is ready for another surge nationwide.

“They represent the best of us: people who are performing their duty no matter what the situation is,” Wilkie said of the VA workforce.

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