Military risk from COVID-19: ‘Anxieties are really high’

Military risk from COVID-19: ‘Anxieties are really high’
A view of Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, from a U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter, March 6, 2020. The helicopter departed from Felker Army Airfield, JBLE. (Source: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sarah Dowe)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Defense is on course to get a major funding boost as the U.S. military is drawn into the nation’s war against an “invisible enemy.”

The issue is of special concern in Virginia — home to the Pentagon, more than two dozen military bases and one of the highest military populations in the country. As of last year, the Old Dominion claimed more than 150,000 service members and nearly 100,000 civilian Defense Department employees, according to the Defense Department.

The spouse of a solider at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in eastern Virginia died Thursday of presumptive complications related to COVID-19, NBC 12 reported. The soldier has also tested positive and remains in isolation. The state’s first diagnosed case was a Marine assigned to Ft. Belvoir who lives at Quantico.

The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly adopted a $2 trillion spending package on Wednesday night that would inject $10.5 billion into the Defense Department as it responds to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee. The department’s fiscal year 2019 budget was nearly $700 billion.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, meanwhile, would get $20 billion for health care, medical facilities and more.

More than half of the Defense Department funds are geared toward the health and safety of military members and families, such as medical care and treatment; protective equipment for personnel; and support for treatment facilities at home and abroad. It also includes money that would help the federal government leverage the Pentagon’s response to the pandemic, including research and development on U.S. military bases for vaccines and treatment.

Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat who sits on the U.S. Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees, called it a “very strong investment” that would primarily go toward protecting members and retirees of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families.

Democratic Rep. Anthony Brown of Maryland, vice chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee and a retired colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, told the Mercury the “plus-ups” for the Defense Department are needed to protect service members and their families, maintain readiness and support the military’s participation in the “whole of government” response.

Brown also backed support for the U.S. National Guard, which would get $1.5 billion to support emergency deployments.

Nearly 10,000 National Guard troops are currently performing a variety of missions in response to pandemic response efforts, with more expected to join the effort soon, according to the Pentagon. On Sunday, President Donald Trump said the federal government would fund approved U.S. National Guard response efforts.

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.