Coronavirus impacts local veterans

  • Veterans Day
    Veterans Day

The COVID-19 pandemic has not spared U.S. military veterans in its path, but groups like the local American Legion post are doing what they can to mitigate the negative effects of isolation and the virus.
Across Georgia, 114 people have died who were tested or treated at a Veterans Affairs facility for COVID-19. More than 2,800 patients, who are mostly veterans, at VA facilities in the state have been infected with the virus, according to data provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs, while 2,585 of those patients had recovered as of last week.
Hartwell-based American Legion Post 109 Commander Bob Bowen told The Sun recently that some local veterans have caught the virus, but many have fought it off and none of their members have died from it.
One of the worst parts about the pandemic though, in Bowen’s view, is the veterans not being able to gather anymore for their monthly meeting and build camaraderie. The local post hasn’t been able to meet since March when pandemic-prompted shutdowns spanned the state and country.
“My post is 90 percent 70 years old and older. Vietnam veterans, Korean veterans, World War II veterans,” Bowen said. “Our monthly meeting, that was the highlight of some of these guys’ month.”
Because of the size of Post 109, which consists of 259 members, they still aren’t allowed to meet under national and statewide protocols. Bowen said a normal meeting before the pandemic would have seen anywhere from 50 to 80 members in attendance.
If they tried to meet now, Bowen said only about 10 members would be allowed to attend.
The isolation associated with a pandemic, Bowen said, has been one of the most difficult things for veterans to deal with over the past several months.
“That’s bad on a healthy person,” Bowen said about being isolated. “Let alone, somebody that’s 70, 80 or 90 years old.”
Most of the veterans at the local post are in the at-risk age group, Bowen said, so they have to be extra precautious with any one-on-one contact.
Nationwide, more than 75,000 patients at VA facilities have tested positive for the virus and about 56,000 veterans have recovered from the virus, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Nearly 4,000 patients who were tested or treated at VA facilities have died.
Veterans living in nursing homes have been hit the hardest, Bowen said, because local American Legion members who would normally go visit them have been unable to due to restrictions on visitation.
“We have people who go there a good bit because we have veterans and spouses of veterans in nursing homes,” Bowen said.
Aside from meetings, regularly scheduled events and programs, like the flag retirement ceremony and Fourth of July parties, were also nixed due to the pandemic.
But now the post is gearing up for one of its biggest programs of the year — Wreaths Across America.
In the program, local folks can sponsor wreaths to be placed on veterans’ grave markers in local, state and national cemeteries. To sponsor a wreath, contact any American Legion member. Sponsorships are due by Nov. 23.
Post 109 typically has a toy and food drive during its annual Christmas party, and this year the group is collecting anything the public wants to donate including canned food, unopened toys, or gift cards for those in need. Drop-off locations for toys and food are to be at Karew Sports on Athens Street, G’s Southern Traditions on North Forest Avenue and Home Depot on Anderson Highway.
“Even though we can’t meet, we want the needy in Hart County to be taken care of,” Bowen said.
Despite not being able to meet though, the post has still been able to help struggling veterans pay bills. They also helped one veteran who had a death in their family get to a funeral, Bowen said.
Some of the post members make regular phone calls to veterans, Bowen said, to help stay in touch and find out what they need despite being physically distanced from each other.
“We’re doing as much as we can with the resources we have,” Bowen said. “We’re dedicated to our veterans in Hart County and their families.”