Reasons & Remarks – Life-Saving Exams

Delaying a comprehensive annual exam is cause for concern


Post-COVID? Will there ever be a time when we’re past the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic? I’m really starting to wonder.

With the Delta variant of the virus exploding across the country, another new term has been added to our vocabulary — “breakthrough cases.” A breakthrough case is when an individual tests positive for COVID-19 even after he or she has been fully vaccinated against the disease. Often, breakthrough cases have little to no symptoms, and that’s important to note.

The idea of the COVID-19 vaccine isn’t necessarily to prevent you from getting the virus. Although it may well do that, the vaccine is more importantly designed to substantially increase your chance of avoiding a severe outcome such as hospitalization or
even death.

While the vaccine may keep you alive, the reality of breakthrough cases poses a number of other questions, such as the status of annual exams through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) spinal-cord injury (SCI) system of care.

I haven’t had an annual exam since September 2019. At this time last year when I inquired about an annual exam I was told, as many of you were, that in-person annual exams were not being scheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I renewed my prescriptions over the phone, but that was basically it.

In my September 2020 column, The New Normal?, I expressed my thoughts on what were being described as “virtual annual exams.” Basically, I explained why I believed virtual exams were “virtually worthless.” My opinion hasn’t changed. 

Fast-forward to July of this year, and I hadn’t received a call from my VA SCI center asking me when I’d like to schedule my annual exam (have you?). I know in-person exams are being offered at some facilities, but it varies based on the facility.

Most staff and patients within the VA have been vaccinated, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has given a thumbs-up for routine medical visits. So, I wonder if the combination of the spread of the Delta variant, breakthrough cases and unvaccinated employees within the VA has prevented the offering of in-person exams at some facilities.

Regardless, the VA has taken steps that may help get in-person exams back on track everywhere. As I finished this month’s column, the VA announced July 26 that it’s making the vaccine mandatory for all of its frontline health care workers.

Whether you believe vaccinations should be a personal choice or mandated by the government, we can all agree that as a veteran with spinal-cord injury or disease (SCI/D), delaying a comprehensive annual exam for any reason is cause for concern.

Not receiving these exams will increase the number of veterans experiencing a plethora of secondary complications that can be life-threatening. I personally know several veterans whose lives have been saved because of early diagnoses of those types of conditions during an annual exam.

Stay safe, and I hope the resumption of your pre-COVID-19 activities includes a face-to-face annual exam at your SCI/D center. 


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