LEXINGTON, N.C. — In the beginning of the pandemic, we shared lots of stories about families separated by COVID-19.
Some families have been reunited as people got vaccinated and restrictions lifted.
However, others are still separated.
One North Carolina family still hasn’t been able to see their loved one — a veteran — in months.
Lela Ann Kirkman, who goes simply by Ann, says her husband, Dennis Kirkman, is a veteran currently at the VA Medical Center in Salisbury.
She says the last time that she and her family saw him was July.
"We just had an anniversary, which we missed,” she said. “Missed his birthday, all of those important things because of COVID and not being able to visit.”
Dennis Kirkman is a Vietnam veteran. He was drafted by the Army in 1968 and was injured shortly after. He was awarded a Purple Heart, and then worked at the VA office in Winston-Salem for 27 years.
They were able to visit him regularly, until the pandemic started.
Eventually car visits were allowed, and then in-person visits. But the family says these visits haven’t been frequent enough.
“We think he has that feeling that we’ve forsaken him,” said Ann Kirkman, along with her daughter, Karen Goodyear.
After many calls and requests, they were finally able to get a visit scheduled. But that ended in disappointment.
“He just wouldn’t come out,” Kirkman said. “Isolation has changed him.”
That’s one of their biggest concerns. Kirkman says the isolation has caused confusion in her husband.
"In fact, he thought him and I were divorced because we couldn’t see him for months,” she said. "He was confused. Isolation does harmful things to people.”
Along with their concerns, they have a lot of questions.
“You know, you ask about visits and the response is when they decide,” Kirkman said. “And I would say, who are they? They should be working really hard to make these visits happen.”
Both Ann Kirkman and her daughter are fully vaccinated, as is Dennis Kirkman. However, the VA says vaccination is not taken into account when scheduling visits.
A spokesperson for the VA at Salisbury sent us their full visitation guidelines. They are listed below:
COVID-19 Negative Veterans:
- One (1) visitor is allowed during all posted visiting hours.
- Overnight visitors are allowed contingent on review by the clinical team and consideration of potential risk to the Veteran and visitor.
COVID-19 Positive Veterans:
- Generally, no visitation. Will facilitate virtual visitation via telephone and iPads for audio/visual.
- Exception: Compassionate care visit at end of life. Requires approval by COS and is limited to two individuals for a single one-time visit. Visitor(s) are permitted to visit 1 hour and only one person may enter the room at a time. Visit must be coordinated between the visitor(s) and the respective Charge Nurse for the inpatient unit.
For Community Living Center patients (long-term residents) it goes in stages. Should we have a COVID positive patient or staff member, we move to Stage 1, which is compassionate care visits only. In stages 2 and 3, we allow outdoor visitation, which usually lasts around 30 minutes. These visits are by appointment, with the Veterans’ permission. Vaccination status is not taken into account.