By SAM METZ AP / Report for America
LAS VEGAS (AP) — The unrelenting spread of the coronavirus forced Nevada to cancel most of its in-person Veterans Day events to protect former service members and their families, adding a degree of solemnity and underlining how the pandemic has penetrated all segments of society.
Nevada has more than 200,000 veterans who served in wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan as well as World War II. They make up about 10% of the state population, Nevada Department of Veterans Services Director Kat Miller said.
Nevada has two long-term care facilities for veterans, in Sparks and Boulder City, and neither have been spared. In total, the two homes have reported 100 cases and six deaths among residents and staff since the start of the pandemic.
“It has had a huge impact on our skilled nursing facilities — as it has on all skilled nursing homes in Nevada,” Miller said. “We have to test everyone, every week at least once. And when the positivity rate is about 10%, we have to test twice a week.”
Almost half of Nevada veterans are older than 65, making them disproportionately vulnerable to the coronavirus. In August, the state Department of Veterans’ Services created a task force to combat loneliness and isolation among veterans.
Miller said her department has worked with organizations like the American Legion to expand support networks for veterans, using “buddy checks” and leveraging help from volunteers to ensure veterans have social support and human interaction as the pandemic keeps many isolated and disrupts their routines.
The virus has strained state programs and non-profits that provide assistance to veterans, including the Kline Veterans Fund in Las Vegas, which helps ensure former service members have stable housing.
As the Dec. 31 end of the U.S. eviction moratorium nears, the state Department of Veterans Services estimates from 25,000 to 40,000 veteran households could face eviction. Stephanie Helms, executive director of the Kline Veterans Fund, said the number of calls to her office grows as the deadline approaches.
“Our traditional client asking for help prior to COVID would be a gentleman in his 70s. Probably of the Vietnam era who lives in affordable housing,” she told KTNV Las Vegas. “And what we’re seeing now is a much younger skew in the age group. We’re hearing from people in their 30s, 40s and 50s with young families at home.”
The coronavirus has taken almost 250,000 lives in the United States and more than 4,200 veterans have died from the virus at homes and hospitals overseen by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the agency reported.
Miller said the well-being of Nevada’s veteran community depends largely on the state’s ability to contain the virus to ensure it doesn’t make its way to veterans’ homes and hospitals.
“The virus just doesn’t magically manifest in a (veterans) home. It’s brought in from community contact. So, if we can keep the coronavirus at bay in the community, we’re going to limit the number of our staff members who come in contact with it and then potentially bring it into our residences,” Miller said.
Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.