Veterans are already at an increased risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated mental health issues for some. That strain, coupled with the possibility of a chronic illness like diabetes, is creating a dangerous triad for some among the veteran population.
According to the Federal Practitioner, as many as one in four Veterans Affairs patients has diabetes, which could be a concern when it comes to COVID-19.
Across the U.S., it’s estimated that 34 million people have been diagnosed with diabetes.
“I think when someone who has diabetes or any chronic illness, [also] has COVID-19, there’s an even greater fear, greater concern that’s there,” Teresa McArthur, SVP of clinical services at Cecelia Health, a telehealth solution company, told Fox News.
Across the globe, the coronavirus has resulted in harrowing manifestations – both directly, through surges in infections, hospitalizations and deaths, and indirectly by instilling fear, plummeting ER visits for any cause, not to mention sweeping financial repercussions and business closures.
“With those who lost their source of support, I think there are a lot of individuals who haven’t been comfortable accessing care and connecting with people in remote fashion,” McArthur said, noting veterans are especially at risk.
Managing a chronic illness in itself is already a heavy task, McArthur said, but issues of burnout, physical and mental exhaustion, depression and poor medication adherence will only make it harder.
She urged veterans and others who may be struggling to keep up with medical appointments to reach out for help, especially if they are home alone or find themselves unable to leave the house.
"I think with PTSD, in particular, you tend to be more consumed with fear of triggers, and often times self-care is de-prioritized so the diabetes gets put on the wayside," she continued.
"Stress and those emotions elevate blood sugars – that compounded with not taking medication, not getting to the doctor, not eating right, not sleeping well ... that disruption in the day-to-day, which COVID-19 has such an impact on, is really what I see as the greatest struggle with those individuals," she said.
McArthur touted the VA’s telehealth capability amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In fact, according to the VA’s latest weekly report on its COVID-19 pandemic response, of over 9 million patients enrolled in VA health care, 38% were verified in receiving virtual care as of October.
A total of 14,911 were admitted to VA facilities as COVID-19 patients, with 708 admitted as inpatients, as of the report's publishing. Further, from March to late October, virtual care among the VA saw a 1,512% increase in home or off-site telehealth visits, per the data, with 180,325 weekly home or off-site telehealth visits from Oct. 24 to 31.
As part of the statistics on virtual care, the VA also tracks how many prescription refill requests were placed and secure messages exchanged; nearly 450,000 and 280,000, in the first week of November, respectively.
McArthur also spoke to the process in advising patients amid the CDC’s continual revision of guidelines given the agency's ongoing studies and new research findings. She said coaches educate patients on precautions in place while detailing the reasons behind it.