WASHINGTON– U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) turned the concerns he’s heard from Arkansas veterans about eligibility for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) COVID-19 vaccine into legislation. Today, Boozman will join Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT), Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) to introduce bipartisan legislation that expands COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to veterans and their families under the VA.
The Strengthening and Amplifying Vaccination Efforts to Locally Immunize all Veterans and Every Spouse (SAVE LIVES) Act would allow VA to provide no-cost COVID-19 vaccination services to all veterans, veteran spouses, caregivers and Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA) recipients to the extent that such vaccines are available. The legislation also urges the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to adjust VA’s vaccine allocation based on this increased eligibility pool, as much as the supply chain allows.
Boozman shared the concerns of Arkansas veterans with a VA official during a committee hearing last month. Under questioning from Boozman, Dr. Richard Stone, Acting Under Secretary for Health, Veterans Health Administration (VHA), testified that legislation is needed to authorize an expansion of the VA’s vaccine distribution beyond individuals enrolled in VHA programs.
“The VA is setting an example for effective distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine for veterans in rural and underserved areas. The SAVE LIVES Act will leverage its operations to administer the vaccine to more individuals in these communities,” said Boozman, a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “I appreciate the input from Arkansas veterans and the support of my colleagues to meet the moment and craft legislation to allow the VA to get shots in more arms as additional doses become available so we can speed up our return to normalcy.”
“It’s pretty simple: we need to vaccinate as many Americans as possible to get through this pandemic and get our economy back on track,” said Tester. “That starts by making sure that every veteran has access to a vaccine, regardless of whether they’re enrolled in VA health care or not. Our bipartisan bill will help slow the spread of the virus by extending VA’s vaccination services to veterans, spouses, children, and caregivers at no cost. And, it’ll get more folks the protection they need as the Department works to get more shots out the door and into communities.”
“Military service impacts not only our servicemembers but their spouses, families and support networks, and it is why the VA and this committee aim to care for both veterans and their families,” said Moran. “While the VA will continue to prioritize vaccinating VHA enrolled veterans with its allocation of the COVID-19 vaccine, this legislation enables the VA to vaccinate non-enrolled veterans, veteran spouses, caregivers, overseas veterans and others with excess COVID-19 vaccine supply.”
“This bill will get COVID vaccines to significantly more veterans,” said Blumenthal. “Vaccinations are the key to winning our fight against this pandemic, but I’ve heard concerns from veterans across Connecticut who can’t access vaccines because they are not enrolled in VA health care. I’m proud to work with a bipartisan group of my colleagues to ensure all veterans, their spouses and kids, and caregivers are able to get the vaccine.”
The SAVE LIVES Act will expand VA’s authority to provide vaccines to:
- Veterans who are not eligible for enrollment in VA’s health care system, including veterans without compensable service-connected disabilities and veterans who have incomes above a certain threshold;
- Caregivers of veterans who are enrolled in various VA home-based and long-term care programs;
- Veterans living abroad who rely on the Foreign Medical Program;
- Spouses of veterans; and
- CHAMPVA recipients (spouses or children of permanently and totally disabled veterans or of veterans who have died from service-connected disabilities).