Advise Veterans to Sign Up for VA COVID-19 Shots; All Are Eligible Now

With not enough COVID-19 vaccine doses to meet demand, pharmacists often find themselves in the middle of the scramble to find shots for vaccine-seekers. A new law should help, at least for U.S. military veterans and their spouses. Find out about the SAVE LIVES law that opens Veterans Affairs COVID-19 vaccination to all veterans, even those who aren’t enrolled in VA healthcare.

WASHINGTON, DC – While COVID-19 vaccine supply is increasing, pharmacies often don’t have enough doses to meet demand. The result is that pharmacists often find themselves trying to help vaccine-seekers find shots elsewhere. Based on new legislation, a good starting point might be the question, “Are you or your spouse veterans?”

Thanks to a new law, if the answer is “yes,” those wanting to be immunized can sign up to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the nearest VA medical center or clinic. Pharmacists can reassure veterans they don’t have to be enrolled in VA healthcare – or be eligible financially or through war injury -- to get a shot there, although there is likely to be a waiting list.

President Joe Biden signed the SAVE LIVES Act into law in late March, expanding VA’s legal authority to provide COVID-19 vaccines to all veterans, regardless of their VA health care enrollment status, as well as their spouses, caregivers and some beneficiaries. 

The expanded authority depends on readily available COVID-19 vaccine supply and requires VA to continue to prioritize vaccinations and healthcare delivery for veterans enrolled in VA care. 

“The SAVE LIVES Act increases the number of individuals who are eligible to get lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines from VA from 9.5 million to more than 33 million,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “Meeting the task of vaccinating this expanded population will be a tremendous undertaking for the VA and will require a significant increase in our allocation of vaccine supply, but I am confident that VA’s workforce is up to the task.” 

Pharmacists also can advise the referrals that the VA has plenty of experience in providing COVID-19 vaccines. As of March 24, VA has fully vaccinated nearly 1.6 million individuals, VA employees and federal partners.

Eligible for vaccines under the new law are:

  • Non-enrolled Veterans as defined in the new legislation, including those without service-connected disabilities and who have incomes above VA’s threshold.
  • Overseas veterans who rely on the Foreign Medical Program.
  • Veteran caregivers who are enrolled in either the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers or the Program of General Caregiver Support Services.
  • Veteran caregivers enrolled in certain Geriatrics and Extended Care Programs, such as Veteran Directed Care, Bowel and Bladder, Home Based Primary Care and VA’s Medical Foster Home Program.
  • Civilian Health and Medical Programs of the Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Veteran spouses.

The federal agency will conduct pilots during March and April 2021 at select VA medical centers to make sure it has systems in place to provide vaccines to an expanded pool of eligible veterans. VA healthcare now receives 200,000 first, or single doses, of COVID-19 vaccine each week but estimates that it will need a minimum of 300,000 first or single doses weekly to offer COVID-19 vaccination to an additional 3 million veterans who are enrolled but not currently using VA health care. For everyone specified in the new law, including spouses, VA estimates that it will need an additional 600,000 first, or single doses, of COVID-19 vaccine each week.

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