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WASHINGTON – Congress approved a bill Friday that makes all veterans, as well as their spouses and caregivers, eligible for a coronavirus vaccine through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The House approved the legislation under unanimous consent. It passed the Senate unanimously Wednesday, and now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk.

“This bill is all about getting shots in the arms of more in the veteran community and allowing the VA to expand the great work it’s already doing to administer shots,” said Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., who introduced the bill. “This is great news for veterans, their spouses and caregivers, and puts us one step closer to normalcy.”

In the months that vaccines have been available, the VA has focused its vaccination efforts on the 6 million veterans enrolled into VA health care. In instances where there are more doses than there are eligible VA patients to receive them, VA employees have enrolled eligible veterans “on the spot” and vaccinated them, said Dr. Richard Stone, VA undersecretary for health.

The Saves Lives Act will allow the VA to vaccinate all veterans, regardless of whether they’re eligible for VA health care. Under the law, “veteran” means any person who served in the Armed Forces and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable.

The legislation stipulates that veterans enrolled into VA health care will still receive priority, and the VA will offer vaccinations to the other groups only when and where the vaccine supply is available.

The bill was introduced earlier this month by Boozman and Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan.; Jon Tester, D-Mont.; and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. Boozman said he heard from several veterans in his state who were unhappy that their spouses couldn’t get vaccinated when they did. During a Senate hearing Feb. 24, Boozman brought up the issue with Stone, who said that because of federal law, the VA wasn’t allowed to vaccinate spouses.

“So you need additional legislative relief to get there?” Boozman asked Stone. “Maybe that’s something the chairman and I can work on.”

On Friday, Boozman said he was pleased that Congress “understood the urgency to quickly approve” the bill.

Full story: https://www.stripes.com/news/veterans/congress-passes-bill-to-allow-va-to-vaccinate-all-vets-spouses-caregivers-1.666508