Thank you, VA health-care workers

Thank you, VA health-care workers

Dear American Legion Family Members and Friends,

John Paul Martinez was supposed to retire from the San Diego VA Medical Center more than a year ago. Instead, the 62-year-old medical technician took his final breath through a respirator on June 24, 2020.

A veteran of both the Army and the Navy, Martinez was one of an estimated 240 VA employees who died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

First responders receive well-deserved accolades after tragedies such as the 9/11 attacks or other mass casualty events. The public loudly voices its support for the troops when young men and women return home in flag-covered caskets. Yet, the bravery shown by health-care workers since the early days of the pandemic is just as inspiring. Martinez and his fellow VA workers did what so many celebrated heroes have done during war – died helping others.

Prior to the vaccine, many health-care workers lived lifestyles similar to deployed servicemembers as they physically isolated from loved ones and friends. Though I believe the worst of the pandemic is behind us, our support for sensible safety measures and the frontline workers responsible for public health must continue.

COVID-19 has impacted military readiness. While The American Legion is heartened that the military has assured us that servicemembers will not be dishonorably discharged for vaccine refusal, 2,333 military members were hospitalized as of Jan. 5. Even fully vaccinated Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had to quarantine after a symptomatic bout with the coronavirus.

Across the nation, our health-care workers have been supported by the uniformed men and women who have always defended us.

In Louisiana, Guardsmen have administered more than 542,000 COVID-19 tests and 206,300 vaccines.

“Our task force has worked through multiple surges since the start of this pandemic. This latest surge of Omicron is more transmissible, which has led to a very sharp increase in test site demand throughout the state,” said Brig. Gen. Cindy Haygood, Task Force COVID commander for Louisiana. “Our team quickly answered the call for additional testing sites and a request from the Louisiana Department of Health to work through the holidays. We are very proud of the flexibility of our team and grateful to serve alongside each member of this task force.”

The American Legion shares her pride and gratitude toward those entrusted in keeping our nation healthy. We continue to show our support by opening post homes as vaccination sites, donating blood and encouraging compliance with Centers for Disease Control recommendations.

Our nation has endured a lot of hardship during the last two years. More Americans were taken from us than all the wars of the 20th century. Businesses have suffered and many children have only seen their classmates through computer monitors or facemasks.

This virus will not be defeated by a vaccine. Just as a weapon is only as effective as the soldier firing it, the coronavirus will be beat by American grit.

For God and Country,

Paul E. Dillard, National Commander