Many formerly mundane tasks became much more difficult when travel restrictions and social distancing policies went into place to combat the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Activities like getting a haircut, going to the library, and even buying groceries are a challenge, if an option at all.
For paralyzed veterans, life in the time of pandemic is more than just a challenge, it’s a battle.
According to Stripes, paraplegic Army veteran Stan Brown realized just how complicated staying healthy can be when one of his seven caregivers went home with a cough. He was left stuck in bed for six hours before the next caregiver arrived. Soon after, another called to say she shouldn’t be coming back for a few weeks. She tested positive for the disease.
Brown was worried he might have contracted COVID-19, too.
“Your mind goes fairly wild,” Brown said. “I kept thinking, ‘Do I have a cough? Am I hot? Do I taste this? Can I smell this?’”
Brown has yet to show any of the typical symptoms of COVID-19, so the VA has denied his request for a test. He doesn’t intend to leave the house any time soon, however, even as businesses reopen.
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“I won’t feel back to normal again until we have a vaccine, even if it levels off,” Brown said. “I’m not going to feel safe getting out until that happens.”
Paralyzed veterans, especially those with underlying health issues, are at a greater risk of mortality from COVID-19. The VA maintains that “adults (60+) and people who have severe chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes” are more likely to develop complications from COVID-19. The amount of one-on-one care that paralyzed individuals require puts them in close proximity with caregivers throughout the day, further increasing the risk.
Those not able to use a wheelchair may be, like Brown, trapped in their own homes with limited supplies and tremendous worry.
“The specialized care required for someone with a spinal cord injury or disease is not always available in typical health facilities. It is crucial that we make sure the needs of paralyzed veterans, and all people with disabilities, are not forgotten during this pandemic,” said David Zurfluh, national president of Paralyzed Veterans of America.
Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the challenges these veterans face on a daily basis. “Stories from the Inside,” features voices from the paralyzed veteran community, many facing fear and uncertainty as public health concerns have disrupted their lives.
Shelter in place restrictions are being lifted in severe states. As most Americans look forward to getting back into their pre-COVID-19 routines, while taking the appropriate health precautions, paralyzed veterans still face a high risk of succumbing to the disease, and little respite.
“We feel trapped and terrified,” said Tom Wheaton, a Navy veteran who serves as PVA’s national treasurer. “It’s still very real — the virus can hit one of our loved ones or our caregivers. We’re susceptible. As the rest of America is getting out of their houses, we’re still stuck at home or stuck in bed.”
Of course, paralyzed veterans aren’t the only ones frustrated with life during pandemic. Veterans with PTSD and other mental health issues are struggling to deal with isolation, as well.
“I think the isolation and the perceived lack of control as well as the constant stressors that are in your home that you can’t get away from can exacerbate PTSD symptoms,” Shari Houser, director of the San Diego Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “For the average combat vet, this is triggering and they don’t have the perceived control. They can’t get privacy.”
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.