Extreme Weather Poses a Threat to VA Medical Centers Amid Warming Climate


Sweating out the summer? Muskogee, Oklahoma, might just outdo your heatwave with a forecast of 200 days a year hitting a heat index of 100 by 2100. As the temperatures rise, our veterans are feeling the heat too, with the AC at Muskogee’s VA Medical Center working overtime. But the climate change worry list isn’t just about heat – the Veterans Affairs has been sizing up its buildings for climate resilience, considering everything from how many billion-dollar disasters are in a facility’s future to the social vulnerability of the community it serves. With this risk increasing more and more, climate action has to be a part of caring for our veterans.

Temperatures Rising in Muskogee, Oklahoma

On July 19, 2022, Muskogee, Oklahoma hit a scorching 106 degrees. While hot days are not unusual for this region, scientists predict extreme heat will become the new norm. Research from the Union of Concerned Scientists suggests that the heat index could expect an alarming rise from the current average of 29 days annually (1971-2000) to a staggering 200 days per year by 2100.

Climate Threats to VA Medical Centers

All this heat is putting pressure on our healthcare facilities like the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center in Muskogee. Sweltering summers have strained the chillers cooling the 100-year-old facility, leading to system upgrades. But extreme heat isn’t the only threat. According to the Veterans Affairs Climate Vulnerability Assessment Report, severe storms will likely increase in intensity, leaving VA buildings and employees at risk.

The Bigger Picture

This isn’t just about Muskogee. Last year saw the hottest year on record globally and a record-breaking number of billion-dollar disasters in the US. Not to mention the 2023 IPCC report warning that human activities are leading to a temperature rise that could trigger catastrophic weather events.

VA’s Climate Action Plan

The Veterans Affairs has taken action by conducting a vulnerability assessment of their infrastructure. The results? Certain regions, including Kansas and Florida, are likely to face multiple extreme weather events due to climate change, putting clinics and hospitals at risk.

‘Tornados and Winter Storms Are Becoming More Frequent’

Climate change is impacting more than just hospitals. The assessment also found that certain cemeteries are at risk for climate change-related damages. Additionally, VA staff are witnessing first-hand the impacts of climate change and expressing concerns about the increasing frequency of extreme weather events.

‘We Are Still Dangerously Off Track’

The health care sector, including the VA, contributes to global greenhouse gas emissions, with the sector accounting for an estimated 4.5% globally and 8.5% in the US. However, small steps are being taken to reduce energy use, such as painting roofs white to reflect heat and planting trees for shade. The VA has also spent over a billion dollars on upgrades to make facilities more energy and water-efficient.

Climate Change is a Shared Responsibility

While facilities like the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center are striving to adapt to these changes, it’s clear that we all have a part to play in reducing our impact on the environment. After all, we all have a shared interest in keeping our planet in check.

Original Story at insideclimatenews.org