Bill expands VA vaccine eligibility to veteran spouses, caregivers

Washington

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – As the push continues to expand eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine, Congress is working to make sure every veteran is part of the equation.

Many elderly veterans were among the first in line for the shot, but some told Sen. John Boozman, R-AR, they were hesitant to get it from the Department of Veterans Affairs because those closest to them were not eligible yet.

“Sure enough, it was a real problem,” Boozman said.

Boozman then introduced legislation to change that.

“When you think about it, you’re not really taking new vaccine,” Boozman said. “These people would be eligible at some point. You’re just shifting it to the VA.”

The bipartisan bill allows the VA to vaccinate all veterans, along with their spouses, caregivers and in some cases, their children. It also urges the Department of Health and Human Services to adjust the VA’s vaccine allocation based on the increased eligibility pool.

“It really will kill two birds with one stone in the sense of getting the vaccine distributed more in the rural areas and more in the underserved areas,” Boozman said.

Lawmakers hope the change also encourages more Americans to get vaccinated.

“Some communities are more hesitant, and I would be reluctant to say that it’s the same reason for every community,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.

That’s why Walensky said it is vital to meet people where they are.

“They want to have conversations with people locally in their community, whether it’s a doctor, their pharmacist, or other people that they trust,” said Andy Slavitt, the senior adviser to the White House COVID-19 Response Team.

Boozman said that includes veterans.

“A lot of these are older men and women who are very respected in their communities,” he said.

The Senate is poised to pass the legislation this week.

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