Veterans honored, but continue to face challenges from the pandemic
NACOGDOCHES, Texas (KTRE) - With the approach of Veterans Day, military veterans are receiving a lot of thank-yous for their service.
The gratitude can’t dispel the hardships military veterans are facing during the pandemic. Coronavirus heightens veterans’ unique challenges.
Last year’s Veterans Day Parade in Nacogdoches was canceled due to the threat of COVID-19. This year, long-time memories are being rekindled.
James Arriola, a Navy WWII veteran recalled, “We landed the Marines in Iwo Jima in Okinawa.”
Another veteran responded with a smile, “We were just talking about that. His brother was in the Corps.”
The sidelined conversations and parades are just one of many adjustments created by COVID-19.
“The biggest thing that caused a great concern for us was the health care for the veterans,” said James Hogg, the veterans service officer in Nacogdoches County.
The latest data from the Veterans Administration shows among veterans, there were over 368,000 COVID-19 cumulative cases and over 16,000 deaths.
In addition, annual exams and needed treatments were delayed.
“We weren’t hearing back for four to six months. And so the backlog was real. It was large,” Hogg said.
According to Hogg, the Veterans Administration hired an additional two thousand claim workers. Even so, the backlog isn’t expected to be under control until June of 2022.
“It takes upwards of a year and a half to get that done because they’re so backed up from the large amounts of veterans versus VA employees to cover that,” said Stephen Clark, a U.S. Army veteran who served from 2006-2013.
Major General Chris Bentley just recently left the U.S. Army. “My year of retirement was in the pandemic.”
General Bentley is observing an infrastructure strain created, he says, by increased awareness.
“This generation of veterans that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 20 years have much more knowledge of what services and benefits are available to them,” said the highly decorated officer. “Because of that there has been a higher demand put on services and benefits, and I don’t think our agencies are as prepared to provide the level of support that is required.”
Persevering, Hogg wants to avoid bottlenecks at his level of service with a grassroots approach.
He opened his office shortly after the height of the pandemic, knowing many of his older veterans didn’t want to deal with computers, Zoom, and phone calls brought on by telework.
“If a veteran is available, they can just come on in and sit down and have a coffee, and we’ll work them through with whatever they need to work through,” Hogg said.
Ultimately, it could be the most helpful form of gratitude anyone could show a veteran for their years of service.
Copyright 2021 KTRE. All rights reserved.