Veterans Stepping Up to Fight COVID-19

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The Ryan Larkin New York-Presbyterian Field Hospital can treat more than 216 patients. Photo credit: Frederick Wellman.

NEW YORK — Since Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued executive orders allowing people with varying degrees of training to help treat COVID-19 patients, veterans have been putting their skills to work on the front lines of the pandemic.

When Fred Wellman, founder of a veteran-owned public relations firm in Richmond, Virginia, got a call looking for someone to run a hospital for COVID-19 patients, he knew he was just the person for the job. A West Point graduate and former executive officer for a helicopter battalion, Wellman stepped in as Chief of Staff at the Ryan Larkin Field Hospital in New York City, where he said veterans make up 90% of the 150-person team.

“We are able to bring in qualified former military medical personnel, from Special Forces medics to Navy Seal RNs to Air Force Para-rescue men,” Wellman said.

He noted while some veterans don’t have college degrees in medical fields, their military training may qualify them to work in medical settings with doctor supervision.

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Wellman pointed to one veteran whom he said is qualified to be a registered nurse, though he never received a college degree in nursing.

“He ran a field clinic in the Philippines as an enlisted man and so he got some real skills,” he said. “And now he’s a floor chief for a hospital treating COVID patients.”

Veterans volunteering to work in New York hospitals also bring a dedication to service. Wellman told the story of how one medic with the National Guard explained to his wife his desire to come to the epicenter of the pandemic.

“He told her, ‘I’ve spent my whole career helping to save the lives of people in other countries – in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and Somalia. This is my chance to help save American lives. I’ve never had that chance before,'” Wellman said.

The governor’s executive order allows people with out-of-state or expired civilian or military certifications to work in New York medical facilities if they pass a qualifying test.

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