Veteran Health & Wellbeing During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Spring 2021

Preview of Military & Veterans Section page (p. 10)
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Emre Umucu, Section Editor

CORONAVIRUS DISEASE (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (Harcourt et al., 2020). Since its first reported case in December 2019, the pandemic has had detrimental effects on our day-to-day life, safety, and overall well-being. It is particularly concerning that the pandemic may trigger or worsen mental health concerns among individuals who are already vulnerable to mental health issues (Wynn et al., 2021). Although not everyone succumbs to psychopathology after disasters (e.g., pandemic), some groups (e.g., people with preexisting conditions) may be more vulnerable to negative psychosocial effects of the pandemic (Pfefferbaum & North, 2020).

Researchers believe that Veterans susceptible to mental, physical, and social problems may be at higher risk for negative effects of the pandemic (Luo et al., 2021). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC; 2020) reported that:

  • Veterans may experience worry and anxiety regarding their risk for contracting COVID-19 or their ability to access recommended care;
  • Veterans may experience fear and concerns regarding the impact of COVID-19 on their daily life and physical health that contribute to the onset of or exacerbate existing mental health concerns; and
  • the pandemic may increase distress among Veterans who are already experiencing a challenging transition from military to civilian life due to limited access to resources.

Both the short- and long-term negative effects of the pandemic on veterans, such as worsened physical and mental health, unemployment, and loneliness and social isolation, are very concerning and need further attention from clinicians, researchers, and other stakeholders.

Recently, Ramchand and colleagues (2020) used existing data to examine the indirect impacts of the pandemic on veterans. The authors’ findings provide a call for action in assisting veterans during the ongoing pandemic. First, the authors reported that “the most immediate indirect needs for veterans in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to be economic needs related to job loss” (p. 3). Employment is an important component of well-being and quality of life among individuals, including Veterans. Job loss due to the pandemic may cause significant distress, homelessness, and overall worsened quality of life among veterans. Second, the authors reported that social isolation (i.e., a lack of interactions with others) and loneliness (i.e., a feeling of the lack of a social network or companion) have increased among Veterans partially due to the pandemic mitigation interventions such as social distancing, self-quarantining, and isolation (Ramchand et al., 2020). The existing literature highlights that high levels of social isolation and loneliness were a significant challenge to veterans’ mental health even before the pandemic (e.g., Umucu et al., 2021). Social isolation and loneliness among veterans, especially during the pandemic, should be addressed by clinicians, researchers, and other stakeholders and policymakers given we know social isolation and loneliness may increase or trigger the risk of physical and mental health problems among veterans. Unfortunately, as Ramchand et al. (2020) stated, the current pandemic creates a “perfect storm” that negatively affects mental health among many Veterans, particularly those with pre-existing mental health conditions. [Continue…]