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VA Expects to Open Vaccine to All Veterans by May 1

Vaccines for veterans

VA Expects to Open Vaccine to All Veterans by May 1

In an article reported first by Military.com, The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is surging towards a goal of May 1st, 2021, to greatly enhance the possibility to vaccinate more than 24 million veterans, their spouses, or caregivers. This is a result of President Biden’s signing of an ambitious new law, known as the Save Lives Act, that drastically expands the VA’s ability to provide vaccination to millions of veterans effectively. The bill’s signing comes during a vast, unified effort from the Biden administration to give vaccine resources and access to as many Americans as possible, with the end goal of the nation starting to return to pre-COVID normalcy by July 4th, 2021.

The Save Lives Act will enable the VA to provide vaccination to all veterans, veteran spouses, veteran caregivers, and Civilian Health and Medical Program recipients, regardless of their VA status. However, patients currently active in VA care will get priority, which is about half of all 18 million living U.S. veterans are enrolled in VA care. As of late March, the VA has completely vaccinated more than 1.5 million people, including veterans and VA employees. Before the signing, only veterans currently enrolled in the VA system could get vaccinated. However, patients currently enrolled in VA care will be the prioritized audience. Statistics provided from the U.S Census Bureau, roughly half of all veterans in the United States are enrolled at the VA. VA currently receives close to 200,000 doses of the COVID vaccine each week in the Pfizer and Moderna variants and roughly estimates it will need at least 100,000 additional amounts per week to expand the vaccination capability to the 3 million veterans enrolled in VA health care but does not use the healthcare system. In addition to the 100,000 doses required per week, rough estimates have determined that an additional 300,000 doses would be needed to cover everyone under the new legislation effectively.

In his initial hearing before the House Veterans Affairs Committee, which was conducted in March of 2021, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said the department is “building out capacity.” This action ensures that it can meet law reporting requirements and effectively accommodate a vast increase in veterans’ personnel eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine at VA. The VA department also is implementing plans to use VEText, its texting program, to reach former service members and other personnel connected to VEText. The system automatically enrolls the Veteran into VEText based on the phone information already on file in the VA system and will send reminder text messages about their scheduled appointments.

“VEText has worked exceedingly well with vets of every generation. There is some sense that older veterans are not tech-savvy in this method. This is not what we are experiencing with VEText. It’s been a very effective tool,” McDonough said. McDonough highly recommended that veterans reach out to their local VA medical centers to learn about COVID vaccination eligibility and distribution. VA announced Wednesday that it is rolling out multiple pilot programs at various medical centers through the end of April to work out its processes for vaccinating non-enrolled individuals.

So far, VA has recorded and tracked 240,158 cases of the coronavirus among veterans, employees, and other patients in the department’s healthcare system since the beginning of the pandemic. These numbers do not include veteran spouses and caregivers. To date, 11,258 have died, including 136 VA employees. Hospitalizations are down to lows not seen since last summer: 3,237 patients were being treated in VA medical centers as of Thursday. In a drastic increase, last October, cases in VA hospitals topped 4,500 personnel.

For more information on the VA’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, contact your local Veterans Affairs location or follow this link.