A coronavirus vaccination shot is administered at the Birmingham, Ala., VA facility.

A coronavirus vaccination shot is administered at the Birmingham, Ala., VA facility. (TNS)

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WASHINGTON – The coronavirus has killed more than 1,000 veterans so far in December, making it the deadliest month for Department of Veterans Affairs patients with nine days remaining until January.

The VA reported Tuesday that 6,192 veterans had died of the coronavirus, an increase of 650 deaths since the department last reported its fatality data Dec. 11. The agency didn’t publicly report data about coronavirus cases and deaths for 11 days while its website was undergoing maintenance.

The department has seen 1,171 deaths since the start of December – a fatality rate that already surpasses deaths in November, which had been the agency’s deadliest month. That month, 1,004 veterans died of the virus.

This month has also been more deadly for VA employees. Sixteen employees have died so far in December, bringing the total employee deaths to 90 since the start of the pandemic. Twelve employees died in November.

The death rate is increasing while the VA and other American health care systems are administering their first doses of coronavirus vaccines.

As of this week, the VA is vaccinating veterans and staff at 165 locations. The Pfizer vaccine is being administered at 52 sites and the Moderna vaccine at 113. Residents and staff of the VA’s long-term community living centers, as well as spinal cord injury centers, are the first to be vaccinated.

While deaths have increased, active cases of the virus among VA patients have gone down since mid-December. After a peak of 17,757 on Dec. 11, the VA reported that 15,082 veterans were sick with the virus Tuesday. Of those, 1,318 were hospitalized at VA facilities.

The VA hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, remains the facility with the most active cases. As of Tuesday, 481 veterans had tested positive for the virus there, down from a high of more than 500 earlier this month. Twitter: @nikkiwentling

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Nikki Wentling has worked for Stars and Stripes since 2016. She reports from Congress, the White House, the Department of Veterans Affairs and throughout the country about issues affecting veterans, service members and their families. Wentling, a graduate of the University of Kansas, previously worked at the Lawrence Journal-World and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The National Coalition of Homeless Veterans awarded Stars and Stripes the Meritorious Service Award in 2020 for Wentling’s reporting on homeless veterans during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2018, she was named by the nonprofit HillVets as one of the 100 most influential people in regard to veterans policymaking.

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