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U.S. veterans turn to technology for medical care amid coronavirus pandemic

For many veterans, the "new normal" means virtual appointments and in-home visits.

HOUSTON — Healthcare for U.S. military veterans has changed amid the coronavirus pandemic. Veterans must now rely on technology to communicate with their doctors and providers.

For many of them, the new normal means virtual appointments and in-home visits.

Marine veteran John “Mack” McKinney captured one of his most recent appointments on cell phone video. A home health nurse provided an update on his leg wound. 

“It’s looking good man,” the nurse said. 

It is not the kind of checkup Mack said he's used to. Mack has kidney disease, diabetes and suffers from edema.

“See how fast my leg swells up?” Mack said.

Mack’s right leg had to be amputated five years ago. Now, he is facing a knee replacement on the other.   

“It’s a constant battle. It’s one thing after another,” Mack said.

Mack said his illnesses were not caused in battle, but by toxic water he drank, bathed and cooked with while he was stationed at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina in the 1980s.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs covers the treatments, Mack said, he could not otherwise afford.

“The VA is our lifeline,” Mack said.

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But the VA, like other medical facilities across the country, has limited in-person visits. Mack’s doctor appointment schedule is full.

“I was actually glad when (the doctor) told me, you know, 'We want to see you more often because in a month, you know, a lot of things change,'” Mack said.

They certainly have. Mack’s doctors’ visits are now done online. A nurse comes to his home three times a week.

The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston serves more than 113,000 veterans in southeast Texas who are now counting on technology to get care.  Mack said Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas) was his link to that online assistance.

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“(Veterans) can also expect to continue to get their benefits, their financial benefits, as they always do. There will be no interruption in that,” Garcia said.

She said the stimulus package will make sure all veterans have access.

“We're sending billions and billions of dollars to VA to make sure that they can get the resources that they need and the medical care that they need because of this surge in need, because of the coronavirus. We've not forgotten them. I don't think we'll ever forget them,” Garcia said.

For Mack, that help came right on time.

“Prayers do get answered,” Mack said.

The VA suggests that veterans log in to their accounts https://www.myhealth.va.gov/ to send messages to their providers and learn more about their telehealth options.

Coronavirus symptoms

The symptoms of coronavirus can be similar to the flu or a bad cold. Symptoms include a fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Some patients also have nausea, body aches, headaches and stomach issues. Losing your sense of taste and/or smell can also be an early warning sign.

Most healthy people will have mild symptoms. A study of more than 72,000 patients by the Centers for Disease Control in China showed 80 percent of the cases there were mild.

But infections can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death, according to the World Health Organization. Older people with underlying health conditions are most at risk for becoming seriously ill. However, U.S. experts are seeing a significant number of younger people being hospitalized, including some in ICU.

The CDC believes symptoms may appear anywhere from two to 14 days after being exposed.

Human coronaviruses are usually spread through...

  • The air by coughing or sneezing
  • Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands.

Help stop the spread of coronavirus

  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Eat and sleep separately from your family members
  • Use different utensils and dishes
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with your arm, not your hand.
  • If you use a tissue, throw it in the trash.
  • Follow social distancing

Lower your risk

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • If you are 60 or over and have an underlying health condition such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or respiratory illnesses like asthma or COPD, the World Health Organization advises you to try to avoid crowds or places where you might interact with people who are sick.

Get complete coverage of the coronavirus by texting 'FACTS' to 713-526-1111.

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