Montana veterans are getting vaccinated to help protect others

Jim Morton receives Moderna vaccine at Montana VA's Miles City Community Living Center
Posted at 5:46 PM, Dec 30, 2020

HELENA — Residents in Montana VA’s Miles City Community Living Center have received their first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine. For the veterans living at the facility it brings the hope of a return to normalcy after more than a half year in lockdown.

The VA’s Community living center in Miles City is the only VA nursing home in the state. They care for more than a dozen veterans with a wide variety of different health complications. However, the one thing they all have in common is their health conditions make them more at risk for serious complications from COVID-19.

“I have COPD which is a breathing problem,” said Marine Corps veteran Rolan Bannister. “So If I did get the virus I don’t think I’d be around very long.”

Bannister said he was happy to get his first vaccine dose on Wednesday along with other residents. He noted the shot made him a little tired, but wasn’t bad especially considering it means the eventual return of some normalcy.

“I miss being able to just jump in my car and go someplace and not having to worry about maybe getting the virus you know. That’s the biggest thing,” said Bannister.

Vaccination efforts at Montana VA's Miles City Community Living Center

The veterans at the Community Living Center that began the process of vaccination also made it clear they weren’t just getting the shots to protect themselves. They also choses to get vaccinated out of a sense of duty to protect others.

“I can’t see why a person wouldn’t want to take the vaccine,” said Navy veteran Jim Morton. “You know anytime you get vaccinated against a disease all you're doing is taking a precaution against getting sick. And I’ve had enough injuries and stuff I can tell you it’s not fun recuperating from things... You’re not only protecting yourself, you’re keeping yourself from getting it and spreading it to other people.”

Morton served his country as a member of the U.S. Navy in the 1960s, finishishing his service as a 3rd Class Petty Officer. He said he’s been vaccinated plenty of times for a number of viruses during his time in the Navy and trusts the testing that has already gone into it.

“I think that if any responsible person, if they’re shown everything that has been done with it, would want to take the vaccine,” said Morton.

Veterans have a unique perspective when it comes to the government and vaccination. At some point they’ve had no option but to depend on what the government was putting in their arm was safe.

The residents of the VA’s Community Living Center in Mile’s City have been on lockdown during the pandemic to protect their vulnerable population.

Both Morton and Bannister said the staff have been doing a great job at keeping the virus out of the facility, helping with new technology and raved about the good food.

Nursing Manager Jennifer Kransky says even though they’ve been doing their best to care for the veterans and help with loneliness, there's no denying it’s been difficult.

“Even going out for a necessity appointment, they have restrictions when they return. It’s unbelievable how difficult it’s been on them,” said Kransky.

Vaccination efforts at Montana VA's Miles City Community Living Center

Kransky says socialization and family interaction play a huge role in a veteran’s recovery. Staff have been working with their patients to use new technology to connect with their loved ones, but it will never compare to being able to see them in-person, to be able to touch them.

“We as the staff become that touch and feel because they don’t have any of that outside contact,” explained Kransky. “We become that sounding board, that listener.

Morton calls his wife twice a day and his grandson has made the trip out to see him, although the visit was through a glass window. He said he’s most looking forward to seeing his family, and wants to take a trip with his grandson to see some monster trucks.

Kransky says she’s been inspired by the veterans under her care this year and described them sleeving up for the first round of vaccination as an act of service and courage. She hopes others see that in them too.

“You know every time we walk through this door, we have the honor to serve those that served us and that’s the way we have to think about it,” said Kransky.

Vaccination efforts at Montana VA's Miles City Community Living Center

Morton, Bannister and the other veterans at the Montana VA’s Miles City Community Living Center will still need to get their second shot in January before they’re fully protected. It won’t be an instant change to normalcy overnight, but as each month passes more missed interactions will begin to return as long as enough people get vaccinated.

The Montana VA Health Care System hopes that if people have any questions or concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine they reach out to their primary care provider.