Crist Vaccines for Veterans Bill Would Expand VA Vax Access

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Washington, DC, February 18, 2021 | comments

Washington, DC – U.S. Representative Charlie Crist (D-St. Petersburg) announced introduction of the Vaccines for Veterans Act, legislation to expand eligibility for veterans to receive the coronavirus vaccine at VA facilities. Under current restrictions, only veterans aged 75 and older who are enrolled in the VA with a service-connected disability or limited income are eligible. The bill would allow individual VA medical centers to follow state vaccine eligibility guidance and expand access to all veterans.

Crist announced the legislation last week alongside local veterans who were turned away from receiving a vaccine. Despite being otherwise-eligible in their home states, veterans across the country are being turned away by VA facilities due to federal policy that only allows the VA to vaccinate veterans who would normally be eligible for VA health care. This only includes low-income veterans and those with a service-connected disability. Even veterans with a non-service-connected disability or high risk COVID-19 co-morbidity do not qualify under the current policy. In Florida, this excludes many Vietnam veterans.

“With nearly 30,000 COVID-related deaths and Florida seniors struggling to navigate overwhelmed websites for a vaccine reservation, we should be making full use of our facilities and staff who can get shots into arms. And yet, red tape at the federal government means that otherwise-eligible veterans – particularly Vietnam veterans – are being turned away at VA facilities across our state. This makes no sense,” said Rep. Crist. “The Vaccines for Veterans Act would expand eligibility and give local medical directors the flexibility they need to vaccinate as many veterans as possible. This would increase the number of veterans vaccinated, and free-up appointments for more seniors. Let’s get it done!”

Additional Background on the Vaccines for Veterans Act:

In 1985, Congress approved and implemented means-tested eligibility requirements for the Department of Veterans Affairs and VA facilities across the nation. This meant that due to income and non-service connected injuries, a veteran could be technically enrolled at the VA but still be ineligible for services. This is largely due to having income above the geographic means test limit and not having a service-connected disability.

As VA facilities participate in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations for veterans 75 years and older, federal policy has forced VA facilities to turn away veterans seeking vaccine due to eligibility requirements. In some cases, those turned away are older veterans who have traveled across the state and waited hours in line in hopes of receiving some protection from the virus.

Congress has the power to act to give otherwise-eligible veterans access to the vaccine. The Vaccines for Veterans Act would remove this red tape and allows the VA to get all veterans access to the vaccine.

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