Now on the down slope of vaccinations, the Veterans Administration is preparing to support the needs of veterans experiencing long-haul Covid symptoms. The series of initiatives include VA programs as well as partnerships across government and academic institutions to meet this growing need.
Veteran Covid Long-Haulers
An April 2021 study by the Veterans Administration confirmed that COVID-19 long-haulers face increased risk of death and other health problems. What’s most alarming is that many veterans developed new symptoms post-Covid that they did not have before. The VA’s Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly outlined that Covid can affect so many parts of the body. “When you put the whole picture together, it is jarring,” he says. “The breadth of organ involvement and the increased risk of death after the first 30 days tells me that we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg. Long COVID is a serious problem and we must prepare for it.”
VA Preparations for Covid Long Haulers
These VA’s initiatives are designed to meet increased demand. Since the beginning of 2021, the number of veterans coming in for treatment at VA facilities after Covid vaccines has increased significantly. Veteran’s Administration Secretary McDonough said the number of monthly appointments at the VA are now greater than any month going back to January 2020 pre-pandemic.
The VA is shifting its role from emergency support during the Covid public health crisis to now modernizing its healthcare facilities to meet this increased post-Covid demand. This includes an $18 billion investment in the VA infrastructure to accommodate new technologies and facilities upgrades.
Migraines Can Be One of the Worst Symptoms for Veterans
The VA’s April 2021 study found higher numbers of nervous system problems were also seen in Veterans after Covid, such as neurocognitive disorders and headaches. Until medical professionals better understand both causes and treatments of these post Covid symptoms, veterans should proactively treat the symptoms.
One of the most unique and painful symptoms for Covid long haulers is migraine headaches. Veterans who suffered moderate to severe Covid symptoms and were never hospitalized could be at higher risk. Doctors are still trying to identify what creates Covid long haulers and why do some develop migraines. A VA recent study from the Journal Nature showed that non-hospitalized Covid patients were more at risk for long-term health concerns. The study found that around 1 to 6 months after infection non-hospitalized Covid survivors were 50% more likely to die compared to those who didn’t have COVID-19.
Early studies suggest there is a connection between loss of smell and recurring migraine in Covid patients. Existing migraine patients who experience loss of smell during Covid, should proactively reach out to their VA healthcare provider to closely watch the progression of their headaches. Despite the potential smell loss-migraine connection, scientists have yet to determine why this occurs.
What Veterans Can Do
Traditional medication may not work for long-term migraine suffers. Dr Brian Plato, a leading neurologist, states that Covid migraine sufferers have a greater persistence and duration of symptoms. Patients may want to speak with their healthcare providers about migraine treatments such as neuromodulation devices like the gammaCore Sapphire.
Some Covid long haulers have also been reported to be “over drugged” which is a risk according to a 2021 VA study. This same VA study in Missouri found that military veteran, long haulers had a higher incidence use of pain medications, thus increasing other healthcare risks. Non-drug treatments, such as neuromodulation devices, should be considered.
Medical professionals recommend patients with long-term Covid effects get adequate sleep and exercise as much as their body will allow to reduce the symptoms.
Online Covid long-hauler support groups are useful for military veterans to get information and encouragement. Veterans have a “never quit” attitude, but trying to maintain a career while suffering post Covid symptoms can be taxing. Connecting with patient groups and other Veterans can provide the support and encouragement to survive and thrive as a Covid long hauler.
i High-dimensional characterization of post-acute sequelae of COVID-19, Journal Nature, April 21, 2021, Ziyad Al-Aly, Yan Xie & Benjamin Bowe
iv COVID long haulers facing new battle with persistent migraines, Feb. 4, 2021, LINK
v High-dimensional characterization of post-acute sequelae of COVID-19, Journal Nature, April 21, 2021, Ziyad Al-Aly, Yan Xie & Benjamin Bowe