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Klobuchar, Rounds ask VA to protect at-risk veterans from coronavirus

Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Fargo.jpg
A view of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Fargo. Dave Samson / The Forum
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ST. PAUL — U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Mike Rounds, R-S.D., are urging the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs to take particular care of at-risk veterans amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In a Tuesday, April 21 letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, Klobuchar and Rounds said many servicemembers are exposed to toxins and burn pits while serving, leading to higher rates of asthma, emphysema and other chronic lung illnesses that make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by coronavirus. Patients who contract COVID-19 with underlying conditions and lung disorders face a greater risk of complications, severe illness, hospitalization and death.

According to the senators, the VA estimates that over 3.5 million veterans have been exposed to burn pits, and 200,000 are on the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit registry. They also cited VA representatives who have estimated that one in five veterans could require coronavirus medical care.

"Given the significant number of at-risk veterans, it is critical that the VA prioritizes efforts to ensure that these brave men and women are able to safely receive care during the current public health crisis," the senators wrote.

Klobuchar and Rounds requested that the VA equip service providers with telehealth capabilities so veterans can access services like counseling remotely, as well as make sure that VA health facilities have adequate personal protective equipment to limit transmission of COVID-19 and protect health care workers.

Mearhoff is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. You can reach her at smearhoff@forumcomm.com or 651-290-0707.
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